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Re-constructing Johannesburg The City Of Opportunity

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The inner city of Johannesburg is expected to turn into a giant construction site this year. An in-depth look at how the past is being revived and the future is being rendered. 


The remnants of a once grotesque skyscraper erected in the midst of the country’s political demise towers over the Johannesburg skyline.

A bright-red illumination adorns the dusky sky and a view that stretches as far as the northern parts of South Africa’s Gauteng province.

 Built in the 1970s, at a time when South Africa’s racial segregation policies stirred an uprising among the black youth fighting for a right to education, the cylindrical Ponte City Tower stood tall as a symbol of  metamorphosis within the inner city.

In contemporary times, the neighborhood has lost luster. 

Once home to the elite, in a previously white-only area designated for the minority under the Group Areas Act, the 173-meter, 54-storey tower overshadows one of South Africa’s most controversial neighborhoods in the inner city, Hillbrow.

With 461 apartments, the ‘point of the city’ transformed from one of the most desirable buildings to being among the most neglected.

As the political dispensation pre-democracy in South Africa was being criticized, investments dropped and its maintenance was neglected.

By 1990, the entire precinct had turned into a slum while the country anticipated a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow in the form of the 1994 elections.

Tahira Toffa, Associate Director of Iyer Urban Design Studio. Picture: Gypseenia Lion

With ease of travel after the elections, the urban sprawl began to develop as more citizens moved to Johannesburg in search of work opportunities.

Tahira Toffa, the Associate Director of Iyer Urban Design Studio, says building rights in the precinct allowed for developers to rise to limited heights.

As a result, Hillbrow developed into a dense area with high-rise buildings. As a result, there was greater focus on building upwards, and with that, discussions on how to maneuver the rights to the sky.

“Air rights are dependent on the zoning in certain areas. There are restrictions as to how high buildings can go in certain areas. When a development crosses a public road or space, air rights need to be paid,” she says.

Today, apartment 5101 in Ponte evokes a sense of nostalgia as breeze wafts in through an open window.

The renovated space owned by journalist Nickolaus Bauer and strategy consultant Mike Lupak pays homage to township culture with makeshift furniture.

“I came to do a story on Ponte in 2012. Essentially, I came to do a story on the bad things that you hear about [regarding] this building. If you grew up in Johannesburg in the 1980s, you heard nothing good about this building,” Bauer says as he points to the skyline.

Hailing from the western parts of Johannesburg, Bauer recalls seeing a red flashing light at the top of the building as a young boy.

“I asked my mom, ‘what is that building’ and she said to me, ‘son, if you are a failure in life, you will end up in that building’,” he says.

On arrival for the story, Bauer remembers leaving his watch in the car with his wallet.

As he entered the building, seeing tenants on their way to work and children playing in the passages instantly changed his perception.

“What we had here was an opportunity to come and live in the sky,” he says.

 Ironically, a story on the ruthless living conditions in Ponte turned into a new home for the journalist.

 Renting a 150sqm apartment in Ponte was a much cheaper option than the 36sqm apartment he had in gentrified Maboneng.

 “So, I moved in. I didn’t leave with that story about drugs, gangs and prostitution, I left with a lease,” he adds.

Bar stools made out of empty beer crates stacked together adorn the once dilapidated apartment.

With a sharp eye for opportunities, Bauer decided to venture into business. 

In 2012, he opened an arcade center to entertain the children in the area. He called it Dlala Nje (let’s play).

Children with needs ranging from afterschool activities to tutoring programs gradually emptied their pockets at his establishment but the costs of running the business were not getting covered.

A funding model to the youth programs came to light during a night out with friends in Maboneng.

 “We went to a bar in Maboneng and told some people that we are living in Ponte,” Bauer says. Intrigued by the historical past, the spectators wanted an experience of the landmark.

The first tour was in November 2012 and seven years later, they have brought up to 10,000 people to experience Hillbrow.

“Immediately, people are skeptical about you leading people around and taking photos. You get asked, ‘what are you trying to do, are you trying to show people we are poor?’ We convinced people it was a good thing,” he says.

Bringing capital back and building skills in the community forged a relationship of trust and honesty between the two. 

“It is a nice synergy. People want to get involved but they don’t necessarily know how. People come on a tour and they become alive to the fact that people that live in Hillbrow aren’t poor, black and evil. At the same time, the people that live in Hillbrow realize that the people with money coming to see how things operate in our city are not white, rich and evil,” he says.

With the Dlala Nje youth center and tours, Bauer hopes to change the perception of the marginalized area by creating opportunities for the youth and a gateway for future development in the precinct.

Children from the Hillbrow precinct play table football at the Dlala Nje youth center. Picture: Gypseenia Lion

Bauer slides a large window shut as he looks into the distance contemplating his home.

“You can’t solve the problems by just bringing in capital. Capital needs to understand that their money is going to be wasted unless they get the buy-in from the people that live in the community.

 “It is not just a simple investment of just turning a dark building. There needs to be a holistic approach to ensure that the area you find a dark building is not only transformed but the transformation of the entire area is also supported,” he says.

The solution is fixing the cause of the dark buildings and moving people will not change the persisting problem.

Just a few kilometers away from the towering Ponte, another building embodies neglect but a different future awaits it.

As part of the inner-city development initiative driven by the City of Joburg, the Vannin Court, described as Hillbrow’s Heritage Portal, will be developed into a safer and cost-effective residential building.

Unable to hold back a tear, City of Joburg Property Company CEO, Helen Botes, describes the journey of reconstructing the inner-city as an emotional one.

“It is bringing our people closer to the workplace. They save on transport costs. Giving them a better quality and the rental is in line with the social rentals defined by law.

“People living in the buildings will be provided temporary accommodation and once the building is constructed, if they can afford the rental.

“I think most of them can because they are [currently] paying some land lord ridiculous amounts of rental because most of the buildings are hijacked,” Botes says.

The City opened tenders to renovate 84 buildings where 13 of the properties are in the inner-city.

Police officer on guard at Vannin Court in Hillbrow. Picture: Gypseenia Lion

Vannin Court and Beaconsfield Court, both in Hillbrow, and a vacant land in Newtown are kick-starting the initiative with an official tender handover tour to each of the respective buildings.

The three properties amount to a total investment of R204 million ($14.2 million).

The cacophonous sirens caused by a mayoral convoy draws the attention of people in the area.

Locals gather to witness the spectacle.

As the celebrations of the awarded tender proceeds on the ground floor of Vannin Court, tenants in the discarded building watch from the balconies.

A police officer warns another to keep a close watch on the windows, “if anyone throws water, we are going in,” he says.

A police escort is required to enter the building.

Three policemen rush in to clear the dark lobby, and we are ushered in.

 A staircase obscures the little light coming in through the foyer on this hot Thursday afternoon in January.

A child peeks through a gap between broken doors, as dim torches illuminate a path ascending the stairs.

Red and blue wires hang from what used to be a plug socket.

“If you look at the state of the city and the quality of the buildings and the amount of work we have to do and the resources that are required to rebuild the city, it is emotional to know that we allow our people to live in squalor and we need to use all our energy to push them to a different standard,” she says.

Dense areas such as downtown Johannesburg are not without their challenges.

Johannesburg Housing Company revenue manager, Karabelo Pooe, who has been developing properties for the past 11 years has focused on inner-city projects.

Growing up in Pretoria meant he traveled 40 kilometers to get to downtown Johannesburg for work opportunities.

Spending over an hour to travel using public transport, he vowed to create an easier way to navigate and reside in the city. “It aligns well with what I believe in, trying to change that considerably by creating and building affordable housing that is secure and of good standard so that we change the layout of Johannesburg and South Africa,” he says.

Investing in property in the inner-city can cost up to R20 million ($1.4 million) for a small project.

The amount spent on refurbishing and getting the property up to the right standards, can accumulate to R80 million ($5.5 million), depending on the development scale.

“Newtown is what it is because you do housing and housing becomes a catalyst. People need a full cycle. You need housing, lifestyle, entertainment and schools.

“From an economic perspective, the impact of it is not only instantaneous with the year that you are constructing but, as a result, by creating the housing opportunities people are living there. They spend their disposable income there,” Pooe says.

This particular plot is surrounded by various informal businesses ranging from car washers, food vendors and junk yards to a mall located within walking distance.

On our arrival, a concerned employee who works in the yard as a waiter at a food vendor approaches us.

“What happens to our jobs?” he asks.

Itumeleng Lekokile, who has been in living in Johannesburg for four months, relocated to the inner-city in search of employment from Dube, a township in Soweto, Johannesburg.

 Afraid that he will soon lose his job, he deems the project as an obstacle, but stays optimistic that it will provide an opportunity in the end. 

“It is going to cost us a lot. People who stay around here come here for fun, and that is closing down. Not only for me, individually, but I think the [other] residents too… It is a good thing but then again it is a bad thing. As an individual, I am going to lose my job and will have nowhere to stay, it will affect me,” he says.

Property development thus is a cycle that includes more than just the business operations as it has far-reaching social implications.

Before an existing property can undergo development, communication between the area councilor and tenants becomes a priority in order to avoid conflict.

 “Through dialogue and good community skills, we were able to speak with to the people. There are alternatives in our portfolio with units that are R1,500 ($103) up to R6,000 ($415).

“So, for people that are employed, we are able to relocate them with ease. Once the building is complete, we give them first preference,” Pooe says.

Johannesburg Housing Company revenue manager, Karabelo Pooe. Picture: Gypseenia Lion

 The R250 million ($17 million) project in the Newtown precinct will allocate local labor to the tenants who are operating on the stand, thus sparing Lekokile his employment.

Architect and urban designer, Toffa, argues that although, development in the city offers opportunities for multitudes of people, public transport is one of the biggest drivers.

Development can be economically efficient as much as it is environmentally-sustainable.

She says, when done well, developments can contribute to the reduction of carbon emissions.

 “We need to promote a culture of public transport so that people need to reduce using their cars so much, the Gautrain has changed people’s perceptions,” she says.

“One of the biggest challenges is parking and traffic in the inner city. Public transport makes sense and it reduces carbon footprint. There are other ways of improving the city and changing socio-economic aspects of the city but public transport really needs to be the biggest driver of that”, she adds. 

Hillbrow residents look on as mayoral convoy drives through the downtown precinct of the city. Picture: Gypseenia Lion

Traffic Net Managing Director, Rob Byrne, who provides traffic reports for all types of media platforms, weighs in.

With traffic reporting experience for over 20 years, Byrne echoes Toffa’s sentiment.

“Where you got development that is linked to public transport infrastructure, it is always going to work better. You have seen what has happened in Sandton recently, a big company has opened a big head office and I don’t know how many extra hundreds of people they have put in, but it just saturates an already saturated area.

“The building and development really needs to be in line with transport options so you can give people that are coming into those newly-developed areas better access to not have to go in and create congestion,” he says.

For Byrne, developments of all kinds attract more people, which causes an influx of people moving towards the city, thus causing high levels of congestion.

 “Congestion is everywhere. The numbers of cars growing a certain percentage a year, we have heard 7%, a few years down the track, you will get almost a quarter more traffic than you already had.

“Traffic is a big thing, it is not going to go away. Development linked to public transport is a much preferable way to go.”

Buildings create a ripple effect on people, the economy, and the environment, which is ultimately linked to health and wellbeing.

With an already dense population, Johannesburg and other economic hubs will need to focus on creating the developments of the future – and possibly more cities in the sky.

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‘Putting Money To Good Work’

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Formerly with the British Army, Kenya-based 4G Capital CEO Wayne Hennessy-Barrett speaks about investing in artificial intelligence and fintech in Africa. 


CEO of a financial technology credit provider. How did that happen?

I moved into tech and financial inclusion after a career in the military, followed by a period of consulting. As an Infantry Officer in the British Army, I saw extreme suffering and poverty in Bosnia, Macedonia, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. 

In all these places, there were highly capable people who had lost their businesses, homes and, often, entire societies.

They didn’t need more war. What they needed was investment and the opportunity to grow their communities in peace. 

This affected me deeply and was, ultimately, the reason I left a military career to try to create positive value.

I wanted to directly address the problems that caused these conflicts: exclusion, injustice, ignorance, fear and a lack of opportunity.

What makes your credit products unique for Africa’s informal market sector?

We design, execute and iterate around our clients’ needs. Credit alone can be highly risky for all parties; we work hard to right-size our loans, and optimize the term and price-point to really boost our customers’ business.

If we can’t provide the right solution, then it’s important to be honest and wait until there is a fit, rather than just lend and risk that business getting into trouble.

What is the investment climate in Africa and how are you invested in the continent?

There are great returns to be had if businesses solve customers’ problems on terms that work for them. I am 100% invested in our operations in Africa. But the African investment climate has its own particular characteristics: business models and execution teams have to be resilient, innovative and robust, and deals will often be smaller than in other markets. Investors need to be as savvy and adaptive to opportunities as entrepreneurs.

Your most regrettable financial decision and lessons learned?

I’ve been extremely fortunate up until now. I took a position on gold in late 2012, believing that quantitative easing in the west would lead to strong prices in physical assets. This wasn’t the case, and 2013 began with some huge exits on the gold market which crashed prices for some time.  The lesson is that markets run on sentiment as well as logic, and you have to respect this.

What do you spend your money on mostly?

I believe in investing in quality, whether in a business capacity, or in great life experiences.  I love traveling with my family to amazing places and having really special times together. 

I’m afraid I’m also a total geek – I love tech and gadgets, but as long as they’re useful and don’t gather dust, I can justify it! 

How do you stay financially disciplined?

I didn’t have a lot of money growing up. I was raised by a single mum who worked incredibly hard to try to give her kids the best chance in life. It’s a very common experience echoed by about 80% of our customers. I reflect daily on how lucky I am. I believe in making money, putting it to good work, and enjoying the journey. Living within your means is pretty important to achieving this.

What is the most you would invest in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and why?

AI is both fascinating and immeasurably important. We all need to be active investors here to make sure it goes in the right direction. We have it in our power to design and utilize AI for the betterment of humanity, but these must be designed responsibly from the outset. 4G Capital is continuously evolving its AI to protect the individual and the values that build healthy societies. Our 6% NPL (non-performing loan) rate is under half the continental average in Africa, and a strong indicator of the overall financial health of our client base.

What are your investment decisions for the future?

Any investment is based on a better return for the future. We, therefore, cannot and must not invest in anything which threatens that future. I am very keen on the greentech/cleantech sectors as well as financial inclusion. Keeping a balanced portfolio between hard assets, longer term plays and cash is always wise.

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How Cryptocurrency Scams Work

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Millions of cryptocurrency investors have been scammed out of massive sums of real money. In 2018, losses from cryptocurrency-related crimes amounted to US$1.7 billion. The criminals use both old-fashioned and new-technology tactics to swindle their marks in schemes based on digital currencies exchanged through online databases called blockchains.

From researching blockchain, cryptocurrency and cybercrime, I can see that some cryptocurrency fraudsters rely on tried-and-true Ponzi schemes that use income from new participants to pay out returns to earlier investors.

Others use highly automatized and sophisticated processes, including automated software that interacts with Telegram, an internet-based instant-messaging system popular among people interested in cryptocurrencies. Even when a cryptocurrency plan is legitimate, fraudsters can still manipulate its price in the marketplace.

An even more basic question arises, though: How are unsuspecting investors attracted to cryptocurrency frauds in the first place?

RELATED | Is Forex A Scam Or Money Goals?

Fast-talking swindlers

Some cryptocurrency fraudsters appeal to people’s greed, promising big returns. For example, an unknown group of entrepreneurs runs the scam bot iCenter, which is a Ponzi scheme for Bitcoin and Litecoin. It doesn’t provide information on investment strategies, but somehow promises investors 1.2% daily returns.

The iCenter scheme operates through a group chat on Telegram. It starts with a small group of scammers who are in on the racket. They get a referral code that they share with others, in blogs and on social media, hoping to get them to join the chat. Once there, the newcomers see encouraging and exciting messages from the original scammers. Some newcomers decide to invest, at which point they are assigned an individual bitcoin wallet, into which they can deposit bitcoins. They agree to wait some period of time – 99 or 120 days – to receive a significant return.

During that time, the newcomers often use social media to share their own referral codes with friends and contacts, bringing more people into the group chat and into the investment scheme. There’s no actual investment of the funds in any legitimate business. Instead, when new people join, the person who recruited them gets a percentage of the new funds, and the cycle continues, paying out to earlier participants from each round of newer investors.

Some members work especially hard to bring in new funds, posting tutorial videos and pictures of themselves holding large amounts of money as enticements to join the scam.

Lies and more lies

Some scammers go for straight-up deception. The founders of scam cryptocurrency OneCoin defrauded investors of $3.8 billion by convincing people their nonexistent cryptocurrency was real.

Other scams are based on impressing potential victims with jargon or claims of specialized knowledge. The Global Trading scammers claimed they took advantage of price differences on various cryptocurrency exchanges to profit from what is called arbitrage – simply buying cheaply and selling at higher prices. Really they just took investors’ money.

Global Trading used a bot on Telegram, too – investors could send a balance inquiry message and get a response with false information about how much was in their account, sometimes even seeing balances climb by 1% in an hour. With returns looking like that, who could blame people for sharing the scheme with their friends and family on social media?

Exploiting friends and family

Once a scheme has started, it stays alive – at least for a while – through social media. One person gets taken in by the promise of big returns on cryptocurrency investments and spreads the word to friends and family members.

Sometimes big names get involved. For instance, the kingpin behind GainBitcoin and other alleged scams in India convinced a number of Bollywood celebrities to promote his book, “Cryptocurrency for Beginners.” He even tried to make himself a bit of a celebrity, proclaiming himself a “cryptocurrency guru,” as he led efforts that costinvestors between $769 million and $2 billion.

Not all the celebrities know they’re involved. In one blog post, iCenter featured a video that purported to be an endorsement by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, holding a sign featuring iCenter’s logo. Videos of Justin Timberlake and Christopher Walken were deceptively edited so they appeared to praise iCenter, too.

Fraudulent initial coin offerings

Another popular scam technique is called an “initial coin offering.” A potentially legitimate investment opportunity, an initial coin offering essentially is a way for a startup cryptocurrency company to raise money from its future users: In exchange for sending active cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ethereum, customers are promised a discount on the new cryptocoins.

Many initial coin offerings have turned out to be scams, with organizers engaging in cunning plots, even renting fake offices and creating fancy-looking marketing materials. In 2017, a lot of hype and media coverage about cryptocurrencies fed a huge wave of initial coin offering fraud. In 2018, about 1,000 initial coin offering efforts collapsed, costing backers at least $100 million. Many of these projects had no original ideas – more than 15% of them had copied ideas from other cryptocurrency efforts, or even plagiarized supporting documentation.

Investors looking for returns in a new technology sector are still interested in blockchains and cryptocurrencies – but should beware that they are complex systems that are new even to those who are selling them. Newcomers and relative experts alike have fallen prey to scams.

In an environment like the current cryptocurrency market, potential investors should be very careful to research what they’re putting their money into and be sure to find out who is involved as well as what the actual plan is for making real money – without defrauding others.

Nir Kshetri; Professor of Management, University of North Carolina – Greensboro

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Hulu Offers Glimpse Of An Edgier Future Under Disney’s Control As Subscriber Count Passes 28 Million

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Hulu is poised to enter a new chapter in its history as the decade-old streaming service once dismissed as “Clown Co.” moves to refine its identity among a trio of direct-to-consumer services under the control of the Walt Disney Co.

The streaming service offered a glimpse of what’s to come Wednesday as it announced its programming lineup in a presentation at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Hulu is looking for more adult—and, in some cases, edgier and boundary-pushing—programming, as well as comedies that have something to say, in the mold of its new series Shrill.

The company said its viewer proposition—the ability to watch the stories they love, whenever and wherever they want—is catching on with consumers. Hulu said it increased its total customer base to more than 28 million—26.8 million monthly subscribers and 1.3 million promotional accounts. That’s up from 25 million paid and promotional accounts reported in January.

Hulu’s viewers are 20 years younger than those who pay for cable or satellite TV subscriptions — the median age is 31; and some 21 million have either canceled their pay TV subscriptions or never signed up in the first place.

“Hulu’s continued growth, as well as the shows and initiatives announced today, reflect our deep investment in product, programming, brand, customer experience,” CEO Randy Freer said in a statement.

The venerable Hulu will need to differentiate itself as more than a mere cable substitute, as media giants like AT&T’s WarnerMedia and cable giant Comcast prepare to launch their own streaming services. It’ll also need a distinct identity within Disney, which gained a controlling interest in the streaming service with its March acquisition of 21st Century Fox and plans to launch a family-focused Disney+ in November.

Hulu called in some serious star-power to highlight its original series, including Margot Robbie, producer of the forthcoming series Dollfacestarring Kat Dennings, Mindy Kaling, who’s producing an adaptation of Four Weddings and a Funeral, and George Clooney, who stars in a dark, satirical comedy based on Joseph Heller’s novel, Catch-22.

The streaming service greenlighted Nine Perfect Strangers, starring Nicole Kidman, an adaptation of the New York Times bestseller from Big Little Lies author Liane Moriarty. The series, from acclaimed television writer and producer David E. Kelley and John Henry Butterworth, takes place at a boutique health-and-wellness resort that promises healing and transformation to nine stressed city dwellers.

Hulu is also benefiting from Disney’s decision to end its relationship with Netflix, which had created four well-received series based on Marvel characters.

Hulu will add two new live-action series drawn from the Marvel universe, Marvel’s Ghost Rider and Marvel’s Helstrom, whichare slated to debut in 2020. For those not versed in the canon: Ghost Rider (aka Robbie Reyes) is an antihero, consumed by hellfire and supernaturally bound to a demon. Meanwhile, Daimon and Ana Helstrom are the son and daughter of a mysterious and powerful serial killer. Together, the siblings track down the worst of humanity.

The series join a growing superhero roster on Hulu that includes Marvel’s Runaways, which is entering its third season, and previously announcedadult animated series based on the popular Marvel Television characters Hit-Monkey, Tigra and Dazzler, Howard the Duck and Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing (or MODOK).

Following the success of Hulu’s 2019 comedy slate, it ordered second seasons of Pen15, in whichMaya Erskine and Anna Konkle play versions of themselves as 13-year-old outcasts in the year 2000, and Ramy, a series that follows first-generation Egyptian-American Ramy Hassan on a spiritual journey in his politically divided New Jersey neighborhood.

Hulu confirmed its order for The Dropout, a limited series starring Kate McKinnon, who comically bow-leg walked on stage in heels to talk about her portrayal of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of the blood-testing company Theranos who is now awaiting trial for fraud.

“Hello advertisers,” McKinnon deadpanned. “I have never been to an Upfront before. If you need the blood of an upfront virgin, I am your gal.”

The service also said it will partner with Vox Media Studios, David Chang’s Majordomo Media and Chrissy Teigen’s Suit & Thai Productions to develop and produce a slate of premium food-centric programming for Hulu.

Dawn Chmielewski; Forbes Staff

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