Cosmo City: a place to call home

25 July 2005

“I’m very happy. Finally we have come to this. This is what the people of South Africa have asked for: a decent house.” So said Housing Minister Lindiwe Sisulu during a visit to Cosmo City north of Johannesburg.

Construction of the mixed housing development began in March. Cosmo City will have 12 500 housing units, made up of fully and partially subsidised dwellings, rental apartments and bonded houses.

“People of different incomes will live together,” said Sisulu. “Children will attend the same school, will use the same parks and recreation areas, and will grow up together without discrimination of income.”

The development will also have 12 schools, clinics, libraries, a police station, 40 churches, sports fields, a public swimming pool, taxi ranks, markets, shopping centres, business nodes, petrol stations and an industrial site on the Kya Sand border.

The construction of the first houses began in March. All 12 500 housing units should be complete by 2007. The four different types of housing are:

  • 5 000 fully subsidised units, with a floor area of 32m² on plots of 250m²;
  • 3 000 partially subsidised units about 60m² in size;
  • 3 300 fully bonded houses, to be sold on the open market; and
  • 1 000 apartments for rent.

“This is decent shelter,” Sisulu said after inspecting two completed dwellings. “The houses are of a high standard, not the usual matchboxes.”

Eradicating slums
First to receive the subsidised houses will be people in the nearby informal settlements of Zevenfontein and River Bend. They have been living in makeshift shelters with no running water, electricity or sanitation for 12 years.

“We have pledged ourselves to eradicate informal settlements in 10 years’ time. We have to remove slums,” said Sisulu. Developments similar to Cosmo City will be built across the country.

Project general manager Des Hughes said the first residents were expected to move into their houses at the end of July or beginning of August.

“Beneficiaries of the free houses were identified in the communities before the project began,” he said. “We want to ensure that at least a few schools and churches are already built when people start moving into the area.

“I think it is going to be such a success,” he added. “This is the most exciting housing project in South Africa.”

The project employs people from the beneficiary areas in jobs such as bricklaying, painting and roofing.

Work on the first three schools has started, and classes should begin in 2006.

How the subsidies work
The fully subsidised houses will go to the unemployed and people earning under R1 500 a month. Those who earn between R1 500 and R25 000 will be partly subsidised.

There has been an unexpectedly high demand for the 3 300 private houses. With a price tag of about R380 000 each, they have all sold out.

Sisulu warned that stringent measures had been adopted to prevent subsidy fraud. The government has passed legislation to ensure free and subsidised houses do not end up in the wrong hands or get sold.

“With information from the Departments of Social Development and Home Affairs, we will link title deeds to the beneficiaries’ ID numbers. The legislation dictates when and how a beneficiary may sell a house.”

Designing Cosmo City
Cosmo City covers an area of about 1 200 hectares. About 15% of the area, or 50 hectares, has been earmarked for parks. There will a park within a 10-minute walking distance of any given point. Some 230 hectares of fenced-off conservation areas will form a green corridor.

All roads will be tarred and have lighting. Informal trading will be allowed in demarcated trading areas, which will have proper marketplaces.

The project is being coordinated by the Gauteng provincial government and the City of Johannesburg. It comes with a R2-billion price tag, with funding from the private sector and government.

The Gauteng Department of Housing will provide the housing subsidies, while the tab for engineering internal services is being picked up by Codevco, the Gauteng Department of Housing and the City of Johannesburg.

Codevco, the Cosmo City developers, is a partnership between Basil Read, one of South Africa’s oldest construction companies, and the Kopano ke Matla trust, of which the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) is the sole beneficiary. Codevco was appointed by the City of Johannesburg and the Gauteng Department of Housing.

The Department of Mineral and Energy Affairs has undertaken to directly pay the City of Johannesburg for electrification of the project. This was after Eskom opted out due “to the project being delayed”.

City Power will design, install and manage the electrical infrastructure and hand over to Eskom for maintenance.

“Commercial and industrial sites, churches and other sites will be sold on the open market and the Department of Education will foot the bill for schools development. The development costs of housing units will be borne by Codevco,” said Hughes.

The construction of Cosmo City is to be done in two phases. Phase One will consist of Cosmo Extension Proper, Extension Two, and Extension Three. Phase Two is expected to begin before the end of Phase One.

When the idea to develop the site was mooted in 2001, Cosmo City was met with resistance from wealthy property owners, members of the Jukskei Crocodile Catchment Area Forum. They argued that the development would hit the value of their properties.

The property owners applied to the Johannesburg High Court, opposing the development. Their application was withdrawn after they failed to send legal representatives to the court hearing and failed to meet a deadline for security to cover legal costs.

The Provincial Township Board dismissed an appeal of the objectors on 6 October 2004.

Community participation has been essential for the success of the development. The community was engaged via workshops, public notice boards, advertisements and personal notification processes. The design proposal accommodated the community’s comments.

SouthAfrica.info reporter

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