Aerial view of Camps Bay and the Twelve Apostles mountain range
n Cape Town’s affluent coastal suburbs the houses are becoming more opulent and spectacular as they tower imperiously over the Atlantic Ocean from their mountainside perches. Yet for sheer extravagance one property stands out above them all — the aptly named Enigma Mansion.
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The 7,000 sq metre, château-style building, completed in 2011, features an eclectic mix of styles, in turns elegant, gaudy and kitsch, while numerous portraits of naked and semi-naked voluptuous women lend it an air of eroticism.
The mansion in Camps Bay has been on the market with a price tag of R300m ($25.8m) for about two years, making it the most expensive private residence ever put up for sale in South Africa. Yet the identity of the owners, who designed and built the property, has not been disclosed (at least not officially). Those involved in its sale will only describe the owner as a “retired European investment banker”. The South African press, however, have reported that he is married to a former adult movie star, with the added titbit that many of the nude pictures are of his wife.
The intrigue surrounding the property may not have helped it to sell and earlier this month the owners slashed the asking price to R172M. Still, Enigma Mansion has brought attention to Cape Town’s high-end property market as it bounces back from a lull triggered by the 2008 economic crisis. This year, 39 “trophy” properties in Cape Town have sold for more than R20m ($1.7m) each, representing a total value of just under R1.2bn ($102m), compared with just 25 “trophy” sales worth a total of R712m in 2013, according to Seeff Property Services, a South African real estate agency.
The average sale price at the top end of the Atlantic Seaboard, which includes the suburbs of Camps Bay, Clifton, Bantry Bay and Fresnaye, is about R31m, up from R29m last year, the agency adds.
Sitting room at Enigma Mansion, originally priced at $25.9m, making it the most expensive private house ever put up for sale in South Africa
Another high-end property for sale along the Seaboard is a R65m mountainside home on sale with property agents Pam Golding. North facing to capture the best of the sun, the four-bedroom home has an infinity pool, an indoor pool, a home theatre and a lift.
Cape Town — South Africa’s second city — is famed for its sea views, the dramatic backdrop of Table Mountain, and proximity to the country’s picturesque wine-producing regions. For an African city, it has a distinctly European feel with chic cafés, cobbled pedestrian areas and pristine white beaches.
Indeed, Western Cape, its home province, is unusual in many ways. It is the only province where black South Africans are not in the majority: they comprise about a third of its 5.8m population. It is also the only one of nine provinces governed by the country’s opposition instead of the ruling African National Congress.
For many black South Africans the so-called “Mother City” has been slow to transform in the 20 years since the end of apartheid, and is at times viewed pejoratively as an enclave separate from the rest of the country. Many of the structural and economic barriers that are a legacy of apartheid linger, with white residents tending to live in the leafy, affluent suburbs, while many mixed-race residents live in the rundown “Cape Flats” and the majority of the black population in ramshackle townships.
However, the black middle and upper classes are growing, albeit gradually. Between 1994 and 2008, the country’s black middle class more than doubled to 5.4m, or 14 per cent of the black population. This in turn has led to more wealthy black buyers looking to the higher end of Cape Town’s property market. “The last two years have been defining,” says Basil Moraitis, at Pam Golding. “Until then, we had very few black buyers.”
Pam Golding’s biggest residential sale in South Africa this year is a house in Bishopscourt — part of the southern suburbs where high-end houses stand in large grounds — which was bought by a black businessman for R69m. Another property still on the market in the southern suburbs was once owned by Charles Spencer, the British earl, and was where he hosted his sister, Diana, Princess of Wales, months before her death in 1997. The sprawling Tarrystone estate in the Constantia suburb is the epitome of opulence, with its lavish, thatched main house, guest cottages, landscaped gardens, tennis court, gym and sauna. The estate, which Earl Spencer sold more than a decade ago, is available through Seeff priced R70m.
As the market has rebounded, property consultants say a key a challenge is finding adequate stock at the top end, particularly along the Atlantic Seaboard. The difficulty is that prime coastal areas are trapped between the sea and the mountains. “It’s not as if you can open up new portions of land — what is there is there,” says Stefan Antoni, a prominent South African architect who has designed dozens of homes along the Seaboard.
He is building his own 1,500 sq metre property on Nettleton Road, a cul-de-sac considered the most expensive street in South Africa. As well as being the highest street in Clifton, Nettleton also offers, for those who can afford it, a key Cape Town ingredient — protection from the notorious south-easterly winds in summer. “Once you have paid a premium on your land you may as well maximise your land, so people are definitely building bigger,” says Antoni.
Andrew England is the FT’s Southern Africa bureau chief
Afrikaans is widely spoken together with English
Like much of South Africa, which has a murder rate of about 47 per day, security is an issue. Many homes have high walls and electric fences, although most crime occurs in the Cape Flats and townships
Western Cape’s climate if often compared with that in the Mediterranean, with rainy, cold winters and hot, dry summers
What you can buy for . . .
£500,000 A four-bedroom house, with two garages and a pool in Claremont, one of Cape Town’s leafy southern suburbs
£1m A three-bedroom house with a heated pool and sea views in Fresnaye
£4m A four-bedroom house in Clifton, the priciest suburb of the Atlantic Seaboard