Just when it seemed as if the South African market couldn’t possibly accommodate another megamall, a new one opens and confounds all expectations.
At the end of April, The Mall of Africa opened in Midrand, an area located midway between Johannesburg and Pretoria, in a newly built suburb called Waterfall City. Already the massive development has attracted its fair share of superlatives: the largest shopping mall ever built in South Africa in a single phase, with 1.4 million square feet of retail space available; more than 90 percent of the 300 store spaces already leased, seven of them to anchor tenants; foot traffic of 122,000 visitors on the first day of trading, not to mention more than 16,000 cars parked in the lot, and an estimated completion value of 4.5 billion South African rand, or about $288 million at current exchange rates.
Jointly owned and developed by Attacq, a South African capital growth fund in the real estate sector, and Atterbury, a property developer, Mall of Africa is a superregional mall serving the center of Gauteng Province, which encompasses Pretoria, Johannesburg and a smattering of towns and precincts in between. Attacq owns 80 percent of the mall, while the remainder belongs to Atterbury.
Other superregional malls in the country include Sandton City in Johannesburg, Gateway in Durban and Canal Walk in Cape Town.
Attacq spokeswoman Julia Godwin acknowledged there is an oversupply of malls in South Africa, and the space for another regional mall is very limited, but said opportunities exist depending on the area. “There was a huge gap in the market relating to the Waterfall area right in the center of Gauteng, and a superregional like Mall of Africa will dominate,” she predicted.
When construction for Mall of Africa broke ground in 2012, she added, “there were 100,000 households at the time in the direct catchment area not serviced by a mall. Being a truly superregional mall, the Mall of Africa serves the local households identified, as well as a broader regional market by offering a range of tenants that attract visitors from Gauteng, North West, Free State, Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces.
In architectural terms, the Mall of Africa, designed by MDS Architects, contains both straight and curved mall areas and was inspired by Africa’s geographical features and landscapes, reinterpreted in a contemporary way. It includes a pedestrian-friendly environment created around the exterior, which includes 26 separate entrances to the mall.
The layout of the mall is unusual in that it follows a “race track” format, with uniquely identified court areas designed for easy navigation.
The mall’s nucleus is a center court called Forest Walk, which is meant to evoke the rainforests of the Congo in Central Africa. Its defining feature is a central axis with a double-height volume which houses a distinctive roof designed “to enhance natural daylight during the day and accentuate the spine during the night,” according to Godwin.
Forest Walk branches out to four other court areas: Crystal Court, inspired by the mineral wealth of Africa and featuring strong geometric patterns reminiscent of diamonds and gems; Great Lakes Court, inspired by the great lakes of Africa — Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika among them — and featuring calm and soothing colors, materials and patterns; Oleum Court, whose bold dramatic patterns and rich, glowing colors recall the continent’s oil trade, and Sand Court, which features the warm colors and soft contours of the North African deserts and motifs drawn from Berber architecture.
Said Cobus van Heerden, director of retail at Atterbury, “The Mall of Africa boasts spacious mall widths and high shop fronts featuring a wide-ranging lineup of the best retail on offer, all showcased with lots of natural light. The design combines international standards with contemporary architectural expressions, so in addition to being truly beautiful, it is also easy and enjoyable for shoppers to navigate.”
Premium retailers such as Cartier, Louis Vuitton and Gucci, as well as fast-fashion giants Zara and H&M, have traditionally chosen to open flagships in the Sandton City retail complex in the upmarket northern Johannesburg suburb known as Sandton Central. The Sandton City complex combines two adjacent malls, the original Sandton City, built in 1973 and renovated, redeveloped and expanded in 2011, and Nelson Mandela Square, built in 1994. Sandton City forms the second-largest retail complex in sub-Saharan Africa, totaling 2.9 million square feet of leasable retail space, and has become something of a tourist destination for shoppers from all over the continent.
Apart from the usual South African department stores and supermarket chains as anchor tenants — Clicks, Checkers, Edgars, Woolworths, Game, Foschini, Mr. Price and Truworths — the Mall of Africa has enticed a large number of high-profile international retailers to establish their Gauteng flagships there, such as Zara Home, Mango Man, Bobbi Brown, Under Armour, Cotton On, Forever 21 and the British toy store Hamleys. Even the long-awaited Starbucks has a presence.
H&M chose the Mall of Africa for its fifth location and Gauteng flagship, opening a 39,000-square-foot space sprawled over two levels. The offering includes apparel, underwear and accessories for women, men and kids, said Country Manager Per Darj. “Key collections include H&M Plus, H&M Mama and for the first time in Gauteng, the H&M Home Department.”
Queues that snake around the block seem to accompany any H&M opening in South Africa, and the new Mall of Africa store saw customers lining up since 6 a.m. on the first day of trading, eager “to get their hands on some great opening deals,” said Darj, which started from 49 South African rands, or around $3.
Other brands have chosen to debut new retail concepts at the Mall of Africa. The Surtee Group, which holds the franchise for Paul Smith, for instance, launched a PS by Paul Smith store to showcase the contemporary fashion collection by the British designer, emblazoned with the usual signature values of the brand: bold color, prints and sharp tailoring, not to mention a new circular logo. Fittingly, the store features accents of fluorescent pink, polished concrete and convex circular mirrors.
The Hugo Boss store in the mall is the fashion house’s largest store in Africa, merging both men’s wear and women’s wear in one space, together with a capsule accessory line from New York with the Boss Bespoke bag included.
Even anchor retailer Woolworths has raised the bar with its Mall of Africa store, a 65,000-square-foot space showcasing its in-house brand StudioW, as well as the Woolworths-owned Australian fashion labels Country Road and Trenery. The most recent addition to the company’s portfolio is the Australian department store David Jones, which is represented at the Mall of Africa store.
Quirky French label The Kooples also unveiled its first store in Africa at the mall. The Kooples belongs to BrandGroup International’s portfolio, which includes Tiger of Sweden and Day by Birger and Mikkelsen; both brands are also present in the mall. Chief executive officer Nitsa Comminas explained that her company is known for “identifying the hottest international niche brands, and the diversity of The Kooples urban sport collections, as well as their mainline collections hold high-fashion appeal at affordable luxury price points.” Prices start at South African rands 1,700, or $109, for a T-shirt, and go up to 8,000 rands, or $515, for a dress.
It was important to establish a presence at the Mall of Africa, said Comminas. “The future development of the surrounding catchment area holds great promise for the future.”
Godwin believes that retailers recognize that Waterfall City, where the Mall of Africa is situated, is a premium destination. “It’s attractive both in terms of location and the demographic of the surrounding area. Waterfall City is the new corporate headquarters consolidation destination and the mall will be the tipping point, putting this new city on the map.” She added that when the market demands it, “we have planned for a 270,000-square-foot expansion which could happen very efficiently.”
A major challenge for the new mall — and all the malls and retailers in South Africa — is that the country’s economy has been slowing rapidly and is on the brink of a potential recession. Declining metals prices and lower agricultural production as a result of a drought resulted in a 1.2 percent contraction in economic growth in the first three months of the year. In addition, political turmoil and scandals have hit President Jacob Zuma’s administration, adding to the nation’s woes.
“The retail landscape here is facing the same challenges as every other international market right now when it comes to economic and political challenges. The circumstances around the instability is what is different,” Comminas pointed out. “Our long-standing relationships with our principles are such that we face these challenges together and try to come up with sustainable and feasible solutions.”
The main and obvious one right now, she added, is “our weakening and fluctuating currency. Increased inflation and less disposable income are always a real factor.”
While there were record-breaking opening day numbers, daily foot traffic at the Mall of Africa remains sluggish. Comminas remains upbeat, though, saying, “It’s a great weekend mall due to the entertainment and dining facilities available; but we are excited about the commercial and business developments currently taking place within and around the mall precinct. We are expecting a large increase in foot traffic once these office developments are complete.”