Friday, March 24, 2017

Cape Town's Concrete Palace

Cape Town’s concrete palace An old grain silo has been transformed into South Africa’s most glamorous place to stay Read next Room and board: high-end surf tourism comes to Morocco The study in the penthouse at The Silo hotel Share on Twitter (opens new window) Share on Facebook (opens new window) Share on LinkedIn (opens new window) Email1 Save YESTERDAY by: Lucia van der Post If, like me, you were brought up in Cape Town in the bad old days of apartheid you would scarcely recognise the city today. In my childhood it was a bastion of all that was safe, comfortable, sedate and dull. Suburban values reigned. Though its beauty was incontestable and its climate beguilingly benign, to me it always seemed a provincial outpost. What I longed for as a teenager was some sophistication, some glamour, something far more cosmopolitan. How my teenage self would have loved the Cape Town of today. It has it all in spades — the beauty, the beaches, the vineyards, the sun and the sea haven’t gone away but on top of that it now has a buzzing restaurant culture and food that is world-class, design and art are flourishing, cross-cultural and cross-racial conversations and collaborations take place all the time. Into this milieu at the start of this month came the latest and most extraordinary project from Liz Biden, a hotelier whose Royal Portfolio already boasts some of South Africa’s most glamorous hotels, including La Residence in Franschhoek, Birkenhead House by the sea in Hermanus, and Royal Malewane in the Thornybush Game Reserve. It’s called The Silo simply because it has been inserted into the six top floors of a 57-metre-high concrete grain silo that sits in the industrial heart of the dockyard and has long been a familiar part of Cape Town’s skyline. What makes it a particularly exciting venture is that on the floors below it and right beside it is being created the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, a not-for-profit partnership between the V&A Waterfront and Jochen Zeitz, the former chief executive of Puma and director of luxury goods group Kering. His own collection of African art — all post 2000 — will be prominently on view when the museum opens in September. British designer Thomas Heatherwick is in overall charge of transforming the whole structure — the elevator house and the adjacent six rows of seven silos. It is Heatherwick Studios that has added some huge glazing panels as windows to the hotel floors that make it look at night like a giant glowing lantern hovering above the harbour. There are just 28 rooms and suites, offering 34 beds in all, including one amazing penthouse taking up half a floor. Exterior view of the hotel and art gallery But it is Biden who has given the hotel interiors their visual identity, filling each room with an eclectic mix of artefacts and furniture, much of it sourced from a brilliant Cape Town store called Block and Chisel (way down in the Southern Suburbs but well worth a visit) and markets and antique stores around Africa. None of it was easy because there were two huge elevator shafts running through the building that couldn’t be removed and Biden had to work with the strong industrial identity that permeates it. There is vibrant art on almost every wall. African art is booming and the close link with the museum gives the hotel its particularity. Biden sees it as an “amazing opportunity to showcase the talent, mystery and perspectives of these young African artists to our overseas visitors.” Much of the work is by artists who will also be exhibited in the museum. There is, for instance, a large collection by Cyrus Kabiru, a Kenyan from Nairobi, whose vast photographic self-portraits show him wearing exquisite masks that he makes himself. Though they come in limited editions the buyer of the first print gets the mask itself — Zeitz bought the whole of Kabiru’s first series (and so got all the masks), all of which will be on display in the museum. Then there are pieces by Musa N Nxumalo, a young black photographer from Soweto whose work explores youth identity. Look out too for the work of Thania Petersen, a young Muslim Cape Townian, who has taken 25 photographs of herself in a beautiful red dress saying her prayers and compiled them all together. Above all Biden wanted to give the hotel a very clear African identity — but a highly contemporary one, not the tribal, ethnic aesthetic so prevalent in safariland. The mood is set by the double volume entrance hall where a vast and colourful collage by Jodie Paulsen greets the eye. Flanking her is an intriguing portrait called “Blue Velvet” constructed by the artist Frances Goodman out of a myriad of differently coloured sequins so that, like the “Mona Lisa”, whichever way you look at it the picture appears to shift and change. The rooms themselves are filled with colour. Bright yellow floral sofas sit atop a washed pink carpet. Purple sofas and chairs are teamed with green or blue lacquered pieces of furniture. Sixty four extraordinary chandeliers made of glass and gold in Egypt hang in the grandest of the rooms. Fabrics from the contemporary South African company Ardmore Design cover some of the chairs and its ceramics sit in some of the rooms. In the bathrooms black and white porcelain tiles are laid in a variety of patterns while locally built cupboards feature glass doors in a rainbow of colours ranging from buttercup yellow to sky blue. One of the hotel’s bedrooms And then there are the views. Each room has a balcony and a variety of views — of the mountain, that looming presence in all Cape Townians’ lives, of the buzz and activity of the harbour and Robben Island beyond, of the giant auditorium built like an ovoid spaceship for the 2010 World Cup. Some of Biden’s trusted aides from her existing properties are training staff at The Silo. When I visited shortly after its opening, the hotel was the talk of Cape Town with pressure to see it so great that some would-be customers had to be turned away — all this in spite of the fact that for the moment much of the area around it is still busy with construction work on other projects. It is above all a metropolitan, sophisticated, very glamorous, utterly contemporary hotel entirely different in mood and aesthetics from, say, the quiet grandeur of the Mount Nelson, the classic elegance of Ellerman House or the cute boutique-like hotels that are now to be found along the western seaboard. And, aside from safari camps whose rates include game drives, it is also South Africa’s most expensive hotel (with the cheapest rooms from £795 per night). As to what you might do at The Silo, a raft of enterprising companies have sprung up to help visitors make the most of the city. Visits to galleries, artists and township studios are, especially given the hotel’s art connection, an obvious option. The hotel can arrange for guests to go straight through to the museum and can also arrange art tours to galleries around the city and to the homes of artists. Huge glazing panels make The Silo look at night like a giant glowing lantern hovering above the harbour First Thursdays in both Cape Town and Johannesburg are a great newish institution. This means that on the first Thursday of every month, not only do all the galleries have late night showings often offering drinks and canapés but all sorts of pop-up events happen and artists bring their wares to town on bicycles and in vans making it a vibrant experience. Africa Travel, which organised my trip, offers seven-day art tours guided by experts who take visitors not just to galleries and artists’ studios but also to view private collections and sculpture gardens in Cape Town, Franschhoek and Stellenbosch. On the docks just below the hotel are companies offering boat trips with picnics around the coast, as well as visits to Robben Island (fascinating — among other things we learned there that during apartheid days Indian prisoners were entitled to more jam than Africans, but on what kind of strange logic that was based is not divulged). Meanwhile, Coffeebeans Routes ( offers half or full-day tours to the townships, to artists workshops, to listen to local jazz or to explore the culinary world. And finally Ingram Casey ( is an entrepreneurial Brit who moved to Cape Town and is the go-to man for those seeking physical adventure. He and his guides will arrive at the hotel with all the gear, then perhaps take you to where the surf is best that day, or lead you on a hike up the mountain, or take you paddle-boarding, snorkelling with seals, diving with sharks, ziplining or horse riding. He makes it easy and — more to the point — a lot of fun. After any of that you should head back to The Silo, aim for the roof-top bar and pool, grab a glass of something cool and white and contemplate the universe as you gaze upon the 360-degree-panoramic view of the entire city. Cape Town is indeed not what it used to be. Details Lucia van der Post was a guest of Africa Travel, which offers a five-night stay at The Silo, including breakfast. British Airways flights from London and transfers, and entrance to the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (when it opens in September) from £2,795 per person Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from and redistribute by email or post to the web. Share on Twitter (opens new window) Share on Facebook (opens new window) Share on LinkedIn (opens new window) Email1 Save 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Angola Is Yet To Develop A Viable International TOurist Sector

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Rwanda's Business Climate-2017

If you build it, they may not comeBusinesses are being forced to move into designated properties

Empty buildings prompt draconian action

BEETHOVEN’S “Für Elise” floats through the lift of Makuza Peace Plaza, a shiny new office block, as it climbs to the 12th floor. Opened with fanfare by Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s president, in 2015, Makuza is one of several new high-rises in the central business district of the capital, Kigali. But the music has an eerie quality as you rise to the building’s summit. This is because, from the seventh floor up, Makuza is empty.
For a city pitching itself as east Africa’s business hub, under-occupied skyscrapers look bad. So at the start of the year the government took action. Letters were sent to thousands of businesses ordering them to hew to the city’s master plan and move to designated commercial buildings by March 31st. Confusion and panic ensued, as startups and even NGOs scrambled for space in the limited number of reasonably priced buildings available. In the area around Makuza, office space costs on average nearly $20 a month per square metre, as much as four times what it would be outside. “It’s been a nightmare,” says one exasperated foreign businesswoman, who fears she may have to move to Kampala, in neighbouring Uganda.

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Rents in the city centre are prohibitively expensive for many because land in Rwanda is pricey, as are building materials and bank loans. But lack of supply is not the problem. Enticed by juicy tax incentives, investors have been funnelling vast amounts of capital into high-end buildings, anticipating hefty profits. Vacant floors are a headache. They are especially painful for the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which is heavily involved in property through its business ventures (see article). Some suspect that by issuing the directive, the RPF is protecting its own investments.
City authorities suggest they will be lenient towards those who have recently signed new leases, and hint that some NGOs will be exempt. But few doubt that the government means what it says. The master plan, which carves up the city into zones defined by the type of activity allowed in each, has acquired almost biblical status since its adoption in 2013. Unusually for an African city, land use and construction rules are vigorously enforced. “This is Rwanda,” smiles an estate agent in his office overlooking Makuza. “They will have to comply. There is no choice.”

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Monday, March 6, 2017

Trade On The Streets And Off The Books Keeps Zimbabwe Afloat

In Harare, unauthorized street vendors wait until dark to avoid the police. The government says 95 percent of the work force is involved in the informal economy. CreditJoao Silva/The New York Times
HARARE, Zimbabwe — Dusk falls and thousands of vendors fan out across central Harare. Through the night, they hawk their wares — vegetables, clothes, kitchen utensils, cellphones — from carts, wheelbarrows or even the pavement, transforming the city’s staid business district into a giant, freewheeling village market.
On Robert Mugabe Road, around the corner from the city’s remaining colonial-era luxury hotel, the Meikles, Victor Chitiyo has sold dress shirts since losing his job as a machine operator at a textile factory several years ago.
“Since then, I’ve never been employed,” Mr. Chitiyo, 38, said under the dim light of a street lamp. “If the economy improves, I’d want to be employed at a company again. But I don’t think that will happen. It’s been a long time since we were optimistic in Zimbabwe.”
Harare’s night market is the most visible evidence of Zimbabwe’s swelling informal economy, which the government estimates now employs all but a small share of the country’s work force.
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Even as Zimbabwe’s government, banks, listed companies and other members of the formal economy lurch from one crisis to another, the thriving informal economy of street vendors, traders and others unrepresented in official statistics helps keep the country afloat. For the government of President Robert Mugabe, that parallel economy is both a source of stability — and a potential challenge.
Once one of Africa’s most advanced economies, Zimbabwe has rapidly deindustrialized and shed formal wage-paying jobs, forcing millions like Mr. Chitiyo to hustle on the streets in cities and towns.
From 2011 to 2014, the percentage of Zimbabweans scrambling to make a living in the informal economy shot up to an astonishing 95 percent of the work force from 84 percent, according to the government. And of that small number of salaried workers, about half are employed by the government, including patronage beneficiaries with few real duties.
Many more people are joining Mr. Chitiyo on Harare’s streets as the formal economy shows few signs of improvement. An acute cash shortage persists despite the introduction of a surrogate currency in November. The government, unable to pay its workers their Christmas bonuses, has offered them land instead. And despite repeated visits to Washington and European capitals, and promises of political and economic reforms, Zimbabwean officials have failed to secure fresh loans from skeptical international lenders.
Demonstrators running from the police in Harare, Zimbabwe, in November after protesting the introduction of a surrogate currency. CreditJekesai Njikizana/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
“The government is moving into an increasingly untenable situation, and they are in desperate need of a bailout in the billions to restore liquidity in the country,” said John Robertson, an independent economist in Harare. “The formal sector has collapsed. The informal sector is now very much bigger, and it is actually keeping alive a very much higher percentage of the population.”
As long lines keep forming outside banks, the continuing decline of the formal economy has raised fears of a repeat of the 2008 hyperinflation crisis, which was fueled by the unrestrained printing of the old Zimbabwean dollar, including a $100 trillion note. Anxieties are mounting as a visibly frail Mr. Mugabe — who last month celebrated his 93rd birthday at a lavish party attended by thousands — was recently selected to lead his increasingly fractured party in national elections scheduled for next year.
The government has occasionally cracked down — sometimes violently — on the street vendors, who are not licensed, describing their activities, near the seat of government and businesses, as an eyesore. Some of the vendors have also staged protests against Mr. Mugabe’s rule.
But the government mostly turns a blind eye, clearly calculating that a permanent crackdown on the livelihoods of an increasing number of its citizens would result in greater political instability. According to an unspoken rule, the street vendors are allowed to operate only after dark on weekdays and starting in late afternoon on weekends.
“If I come too early, the police will take my wares away and I’ll be broke,” said Norest Muza, 28, who sold popcorn and chips while carrying her 2-year-old son on her back. “Evenings, the police don’t come.”
Many of the street vendors arrive in Harare’s business district at dusk and spend the night on the streets before going home at dawn with the morning’s first taxis and buses.
“How else can we survive when things are tough for everyone here in Zimbabwe?” asked Tichaona Murwira, 25, who was hawking cellphone chargers, sweets and cigarettes. “I’m a vendor because there is no job for me although I passed my secondary school education.”
Zimbabwe’s per capita gross national income peaked with independence in 1980, when Mr. Mugabe seized power, and bottomed out with the hyperinflation crisis of 2008. Though it has been slowly rising in recent years, it remains well below the level at independence.
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Mr. Mugabe’s violent seizure of white-owned farms starting in 2000 precipitated a decline in manufacturing and a process of deindustrialization. Manufacturing peaked in 1992, accounting for about 30 percent of the gross domestic product. Now it is 11 percent and declining.
On Harare’s outskirts, industrial areas have been gutted. Abandoned factories are now used by the homeless, drug dealers, prostitutes and churches.
In Southerton — the district where Mr. Chitiyo, the street vendor, once worked as a machine operator — Philda Chinyoka, the pastor at the True Covenant International Ministries, a Pentecostal church, said she had moved her church to the area in 2014.
“The building was just empty,” she said. “I hear it used to be a tissue paper-making company.”
Inside a nearby abandoned building, with missing doors and broken windows, prostitutes operate day and night.
“The company that used to manufacture net wire here — I forget its name — closed shop in 2006,” said Esther Munetsi, 27, who has worked in the building as a prostitute for the last nine years.
With manufacturing’s sharp decline, as well as the resulting drop in exports and spike in imports, Zimbabwe suffers from a steep trade imbalance. That imbalance’s effect on the economy is exacerbated by the American dollar, which Zimbabwe adopted in 2009 to combat hyperinflation.
Because of the ballooning trade imbalance and widespread hoarding of the greenback, Zimbabwe has experienced a crippling shortage of dollars since last March. Efforts to encourage the use of plastic money — and the introduction, so far, of nearly $100 million into the market of a surrogate currency called bond notes — have helped, though not enough. Customers still stand for hours in long lines outside banks to try to withdraw the few dollars available.
Zimbabweans waiting to withdraw money slept on the street in front of a Harare bank before it opened.CreditTafadzwa Ufumeli/Anadolu Agency, via Getty Images
With the government now strictly controlling the transfer of dollars outside Zimbabwe, companies dependent on trade are finding it increasingly difficult to import critical goods.
“We have companies scaling down or discontinuing certain lines that are heavy on import requirements,” said Busisa Moyo, president of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries.
At a small auto parts shop in central Harare, called Track Board, Prince Mapira, 23, said American dollars had vanished from the marketplace. Customers now pay only in bond notes, which are recognized only inside Zimbabwe, creating a problem for his business.
The auto shop needs American dollars to import parts from South Africa or Japan. So Mr. Mapira takes the bond notes, which are supposed to be the equivalent of the American dollar, to exchange on the black market.
“If you go there with 100 dollars in bond notes, they give you $70 or $80,” he said. “It’s not equal on the black market.”
As the formal economy keeps shrinking, more and more people have been crowding the area where Mr. Chitiyo sells shirts on Robert Mugabe Road.
Across the street, a girl’s voice was crying, “Twenty-five cents for a cob!” It belonged to Tariro Dongo, 13, on her first evening working as a street vendor. It was past 9 p.m. Tariro said she was good in school and wanted to become a teacher.
She had bought 20 corn cobs for $2 near her home in Epworth, a poor township outside Harare. If she sold everything, her profit, after transportation, would amount to a couple of dollars. Sitting on a black bucket and fanning the coals in a small charcoal burner with a piece of cardboard, Tariro roasted the cobs.
She was happy with the money she had made on her first day, Tariro said.
“Twenty-five cents,” she cried. “One cob left!”

Thursday, March 2, 2017