Cape Town waterfront sold

Cape Town’s Victoria and Alfred Waterfront has been sold for R10-billion, the Mail & Guardian can reveal.

The purchase consortium includes property manager Growthpoint, banking giant Absa, and the Public Investment Corporation, two people who have been briefed on the transaction said.

“The deal has been under discussion for ages”, said one, “but it was signed off today [Friday]”. A second source said the paperwork would likely be finalised by Monday.

Growthpoint spokesperson Bronwen Noble however flatly denied that the company was involved. “Growthpoint is not part of any transaction, nor are they facilitating it”.

The sellers are London-based property moguls Ian and Richard Livingstone through their London and Regional Properties, along with the Emirati investment firm Dubai World.

“The Livingstones are taking cash, and Dubai world is taking a mixture of cash and shares”, one of those familiar with the details told the M&G.

The V&A Waterfront ranks as South Africa’s number one tourist destination, and it is almost certainly the country’s single most valuable piece of real estate. It was controversially privatised in September 2006 by Transnet, which sold the site for R7-billion. Empowerment partners in the transaction included Hassan Adams, a close associate of then Western Cape premier Ebrahim Rasool. The relationship, and Dubai World’s subsequent efforts to buy the adjacent Somerset Hospital complex from the provincial government ensured that the transaction was dogged by controversy. Cosatu protested at the sale saying it amounted to “selling off the family silver”.

Tensions between the Livingstones and Dubai World were constantly rumoured following the purchase, with clashes over the scale and pace of new investment at the complex regularly alluded to by Waterfront insiders. Members of the empowerment consortium too, were angered by the apparent reluctance of L&R and Dubai World to grant them presence on the board. Adams himself is said by those who have discussed the matter with him to believe that empowerment partners have been sidelined.

Over the past two years, Dubai’s financial crisis has reduced the Emirate’s appetite, and capacity, for new investment.

The question now being asked by those close to the process is whether any profits will flow to the empowerment consortium. While R3-billion appears to be a tidy return on the R7-billion purchase price over four years, there was a significant debt component in the purchase, and a source close to the BEE consortium claimed that financing costs may erode much of the gain.

Representatives of the Waterfront declined to comment.

Absa’s Mike Mortimer said the company had helped fund the 2006 deal and remained a financier for development at the precinct, adding “We are certainly not in the throes of acquiring the asset.” London & Regional, Dubai World and Adams did not immediately respond to queries.

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Lynley Donnelly
Lynley Donnelly
Lynley is a senior business reporter at the Mail & Guardian. But she has covered everything from social justice to general news to parliament - with the occasional segue into fashion and arts. She keeps coming to work because she loves stories, especially the kind that help people make sense of their world.
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