Our last day in Johannesburg represented an opportunity to hear a practitioner’s perspective on capital flows and the strength of the South African mortgage market as well as get in on a very interesting student housing project in the center of Johannesburg. Our team heard from Manie Annandale, Nedbank head of Affordable Housing Finance who was gracious with his time and provided a brief review of the banking regulatory environment, current players in the marketplace and opportunities for growth. After the Nedbank tour, we headed to the Braamfontein area of Johannesburg where IHS owns and manages Studentdigz, a 948-unit portfolio of student housing projects with access to University of Johannesburg and Witts University.
When the Studentdigz tour concluded, our bus headed to the airport where we hopped on a 3 hour-long flight to Cape Town and the excitement of getting to discover another city in this wonderful country. The same night, we dined at Sevruga on the V&A waterfront, one of the premier coastal destinations in the world that we toured the following day (& discussed at length in our next article). It had only been a few days in South Africa for all of us, but we were each feeling very much invested in trying to find solutions to the problems of housing affordability we noted.
Our 2nd day in Johannesburg started with a visit to the Apartheid Museum, which provided all of us with a way to better understand and experience what apartheid South Africa was really like. Through the help of the museum’s various individual exhibits, we were drawn into an emotional journey of the now defunct state-sanctioned racial segregation system and the struggle of the majority to overthrow this injustice. Carefully assembled in chronological order, the exhibits showed a clear depiction of the rise and fall of apartheid, from the race classification journeys, the turn to violence, through the rise of black consciousness which culminated in the National Peace Accord and the historic 1994 elections which represented one of the few times a colonizing force had relinquished control without large scale external intervention or civil war.
Touring the museum was such an emotional journey through horrors, injustice, sacrifice, liberation and healing that we could not help but note the harsh beauty of this country and how remarkable its progress has been in spite of staggering odds. We left the museum and headed to Sakhumzi restaurant for an authentic culinary experience in the heart of Soweto and within walking distance to the Nelson Mandela house museum.
In the afternoon, we toured Jabulani, a 1,000-unit multifamily housing project owned and managed by International Housing Solutions (IHS), a South-Africa based vertically-integrated Real Estate investment management firm. Located in Soweto, the Jabulani project caters to the housing needs of middle-income individuals looking to live in close proximity to major transportation and employment centers. Accompanied by the IHS staff, we concluded the Jabulani tour and headed to Fleurhof, a 10,000-apartment commercial and residential development community west of Johannesburg in the Roodeport province. Constructed in multiple phases, Fleurhof is expected to house over 40,000 residents when completed. The sheer size of this project is astounding and the completed phases are near 100% occupied, proving the exceptional growth of the emerging middle class in South Africa. Further, this project will include improved community infrastructure, easy access to schools, hospitals, shops and work opportunities, improving the livelihood of its residents.
We left Fleurhof inspired by IHS’ efforts to address the lack of housing affordability in the emerging South African middle class. Having been in the country for a little over 3 days, we realized that we were merely scratching the surface examining the size of the opportunity set. We concluded the evening with a walk at Melrose Arch, a modern mixed-use development in Central Johannessburg where our group dined at Moyo, a local favorite (if you are in town and up for a culinary adventure, you must try the mabosa caterpillar).
Africa is where it all began and in Real Estate, the best way to know is it to become one with it, to explore the vastness of the continent and witness its story. Our school prides itself on being at the very center of business and upholding the highest standards of intellectual pursuit and cultural enrichment. When it came time to act upon this mission, we decided to look no further than South Africa, a bustling democracy 24 years in the making where changes in land use patterns, demographics and workforce automation are beginning to drive significant growth in the real estate market.
On March 13th, 36 students aimed to get to the bottom of all things Real Estate while embarking upon this journey. We started our trek in Johannesburg with a visit to Growthpoint Properties, an international Real Estate fund investing in industrial, retail and office assets in South Africa, where the firm’s management introduced us to broad investment strategies undertaken in the current market environment.
Shortly afterwards, we visited Lillieslief Farm, the place secretly used by African National Congress (ANC) activists in the 1960s and where many prominent ANC leaders were arrested (Mandela was later arrested here, beginning his 27-year long imprisonment). It was there we received an overview on the current state of affairs in South Africa from JP Landsman, a political and economic analyst research macro trends affecting SA society and also heard from a treasury representative on the country’s fiscal situation. The presentations concluded with a presentation from Kecia Rust, director at the Centre for Affordable Housing Finance, a government think-tank examining housing affordability in South Africa. In the evening, our group had the pleasure of meeting with members of the South African Property Owners Association (SAPOA) where we heard from local Real Estate investors. Off to Day 2 and more adventures along the way.
I believe I speak for all of us on the Chazen South Africa trip when I say that this journey was one of the most meaningful experiences of our Columbia Business School education. Why? For me, it boils down to three main lessons, which I will carry with me through this final semester at CBS (and onwards!).
1. Inspiration from South Africa’s complex history – specifically, from those who have fought and continue fighting for a united country.
“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” -Nelson Mandela
Throughout our 10 days and across the country, we were constantly surrounded by people who are fighting, in diverse ways, for a South Africa that they believe in. From places like Robben Island to the Apartheid Museum, where we learned about the struggle of leaders great and small, to our meetings with the people at the helm of EY, Nando’s, and Awethu Project, to name a few, we saw an incredible spirit in the people of South Africa and such excitement around the future of the country that they hope to build.
2. A perspective on global business and an increased awareness of the differences of foreign markets relative to the U.S. market.
“When overseas, you learn more about your own country than you do the place you’re visiting.” –Clint Borgen
From a business perspective, our meetings shed light on the context of the South African market, and the African market more broadly, especially when thinking about strategy and reaching the average consumer. In many ways, the leaders we met with illustrated the benefits of the US market in making comparisons with South Africa – in terms of population size, demographics, income level, and many other factors. Despite the unique challenges of the South African market, the country clearly presents an opportunity to many international businesses looking to make a start on the African continent. I’m looking forward to watching the market and seeing what happens with many of these attempts at expansion into East and West Africa.
3. An incredible new group of friends and the memories we now have together!
“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” –John Steinbeck
It’s hard to explain just how much fun was had on this trip. From our day hanging with penguins in our ridiculous Hawaiian shirts, to many memorable (or not so memorable, if they took place post-dinner) hotseats on the bus, to the infamous dragon lady… I can’t imagine a more engaging, curious, and energetic group to have seen South Africa with over the past few weeks. Our leaders – Maria, Jocelyn, Christina, and Ian – put an incredible amount of heart into this trip, and it made all the difference in our experiences. We also had the best Chazen leaders, Caitlin and Becky, who were a pleasure to get to know and added a lot to the trip.
After two days on safari in Kruger National Park (and lots of learning and debate around the rhino conservation crisis – read more here), we made our way to Johannesburg, the largest city in South Africa, with a population close to 8 million.
Our last full day on-the-ground was scheduled full of company visits, and as we departed early morning, after a quick debrief around our learnings from the trip, we were nervous it would be a long day. We’d spent the day prior learning about Apartheid through visits to the Apartheid Museum and Nelson Mandela’s home in Soweto (named for the South Western Townships), an area that was home to many anti-Apartheid activists for decades and a humbling place to see, stark contrast to the pristine beauty of Cape Town. Today, however, we were quickly inspired by the brilliant work of the businesses today in Johannesburg.
Our first stop was Nando’s, the famous Mozambican chicken chain, to their headquarters (dubbed the “Central Kitchen”). The office is beautiful, featuring unique African designs and an open warehouse feel. Creative artwork covers the walls, representative of the company’s Global Art Initiative – Nando’s restaurants worldwide feature South African artists, giving them exposure and simultaneously causing the asset on the wall to appreciate, a win-win for both the company and the artists.
In fact, the most impressive aspect of the Nando’s visit (apart from the famous peri-peri chicken we were served for lunch) was the vast array of social impact the company has built into its core business model. One focus is on the supply chain for the infamously hot peppers used in the company’s peri-peri sauce; Nando’s funds small-scale, entrepreneurial farmers in Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and South Africa to learn and become future future chili suppliers for the company. The company has also invested significant effort in fighting malaria in Mozambique through the Goodbye Malaria project, a project that is very close to Nando’s heart because of the close relationship the company has with its farmers.
Our next stop was at Discovery Health, the largest private health insurance company in South Africa. Discovery built an innovative model called Vitality, which rewards people for healthy behavior. By checking into the gym, for example, a Vitality user gets points that can later be put towards anything from a free weekly coffee to a half-price airplane ticket. While such rewards seem hugely costly, the company says that the costs are offset by the value derived from keeping customers healthy. Discovery is located in area of Johannesburg called Sandton, a ritzy business neighborhood that looks almost like Miami and is home to several high-end malls, including Nelson Mandela Square (not to be confused for a historical site…).
From Discovery, we headed downtown to the Central Business District (CBD), a much rougher part of the city. Our meeting with Awethu Project took place at a lovely restaurant in Constitution Hill, a former prison known as “The Robben Island of Johannesburg” that housed anti-Apartheid activists including Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Robert Sobukwe and many others until it was closed in 1983. Meeting with the team at Awethu there, an incubator and venture capital firm that invests in black-owned businesses in South Africa, was inspiring – in the face of such former hate, we saw so much hope and entrepreneurial spirit.
The evening ended with an alumni happy hour at The Living Room, a beautiful rooftop spot in Maboneng, a vibrant area just blocks from the hectic streets of the CBD. We were full of hope and love towards South Africa and the work that so many are doing to inspire the rest of the country.
“I was a prisoner here from 1977 to 1982,” our guide, an elderly black South African man, explained. His charge? “Terrorism,” for educational reform protests outside his high school with a group of fellow students.
We were on Robben Island, an infamous Apartheid prison just across the water from Cape Town, where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years (of his 27 total) in a tiny cell. As we sat along the walls of a former incarceration room, the injustice of the place was palpable.
The first few days in Cape Town have felt like a lifetime, a packed schedule enabling us to see a full spectrum of businesses, cultural sites, shopping areas, restaurants, and natural beauty in this gorgeous beach and mountainside city. But one aspect that has stood out to the 42 of us on the trip is the extreme and inescapable divide between rich and poor, a lasting result of Apartheid, which ended during our lifetimes, in 1994.
South Africa has the highest Gini coefficient (a commonly used measure of income inequality) of any country in the world. Blacks make up over 90% of the country’s poor, and unemployment rates are extremely high—estimated in 2002 at 48% for black South Africans. While significant efforts are underway to close the gap—including Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE), a government initiative to improve diversity at the highest levels of the workforce—education for the population at large remains a major barrier, given that roughly 25% of 6th graders are illiterate. Most South Africans still live in large “townships” (slums, shantytowns) outside the city, where they were forcefully relocated during Apartheid.
The demographics of the country play out in the way business is done in South Africa. At our visit to South African Brewing (SAB), we were told that the biggest growth opportunity for SAB, recently acquired by Anheuser-Busch, is affordability. For the majority of South African consumers, it takes six hours of work to pay for one Castle beer (typically 15-20 rand, about $1 USD), and over 90% of SAB sales in Cape Town are to that segment of the population. From a go-to-market standpoint, the townships present the largest customer base for the company, and SAB keeps those customers front-of-mind when developing more affordable products that appeal to the broader base.
A similar discussion took place at our visit to e.tv, South Africa’s largest independent, free-to-air television and news channel. The other public news channel in the country is operated by the government, and e.tv is proud of its position promoting free speech throughout the country since it was first established in 1998. As the COO explained, “The ANC [the ruling party] sees us as the mouthpiece of the Democratic Alliance (DA) [the opposition party]. Meanwhile, the DA sees us as the mouthpiece of the ANC.”
While talking about the challenges for services like Netflix to succeed in South Africa, we discussed the limited availability of broadband to the vast majority of the population: 28 million people in South Africa use the internet (about 50% of the population), and of those, only 3% have access to broadband. Netflix launched in the country about a year ago but has yet to gain much traction—it will likely be a marathon, not a sprint.
As we learned at EY, South Africa is often considered from a business standpoint as the gateway to Africa. The African continent is predicted to have some of the highest GDP growth in the world over the next 15 years, around 5% annually, and while South Africa’s is much lower, the country presents an opportunity for many international companies to establish a base on the continent. It is the easiest country in sub-Saharan Africa in which to do business when considering the tax and regulatory framework, and corruption remains low compared to countries in East and West Africa.
Cape Town’s beauty goes without saying, as one of the only major cities in the world with a spectacular mountain right in its center. We spent a day driving down the coast to the Cape of Good Hope, along roads carved into cliffs overlooking the South Atlantic Ocean and to beaches dotted with little African penguins—as well as making a quick stop at Cape Town’s very own e-commerce startup Yuppiechef, widely regarded for its steadfast focus on customer experience. Visits to nearby wineries and estates in Constantia and Stellenbosch offered a glimpse into the best of what life can offer on the Western Cape, including a private tour and tasting at Babylonstoren, which is owned by a CBS alum and Founder/CEO of a major television network in SA. They’re famous for their rosé!
We’re now off to Kruger National Park for two days on safari before continuing to Johannesburg for our last round of museum and company visits. More to learn!
As a second-year student embarking on my first Chazen trip, my expectations for the next couple weeks are high. I’ve been interested in Chazen since I first started thinking about my application to CBS, as I can think of no better way to see and learn about a country than by visiting with classmates who have lived or grown up there. I’m also looking forward to the company visits because of a strong interest in international business.
And… swag! (Plus Christina’s cat.)
Our organizers have worked hard on a fantastic itinerary for us, with trips to Stellenbosch wineries and vineyards, a tour of Robben Island, a cable-car up Table Mountain, playing with penguins on the Cape Peninsula, and a private game safari in Kruger National Park. We also have several “theme” days, which adds some fun and group bonding to the trip. Stay tuned for photos!
I’m particularly excited to visit Nando’s, a big South African restaurant chain with nearly 1,000 outlets in 30 countries. Nando’s is well known for their creative, cheeky marketing campaigns… And I’ve heard great things about the chicken. Might have to get myself one of these loyalty cards…
This is my first time on the African continent, and I’m looking forward to sharing my adventures with Chazen over the course of the next 10 days. Let’s do this!