Power to the billionaire’s bronze bust

A-Listers with Craig Jacobs Pictures by Masi Losi



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● From hanging out on a rooftop with a couple of Olympians and the fastest man on sand, to quaffing champers at the opening of a sparkling new wing in a rarelyspotted-in-real-life billionaire’s playground, this week on the social whirl was one for the books. Let’s start at the end; and other than Alexander the Great, I can’t think of many who’ve had the chutzpah to name a “city” after themselves — least of all someone who began their career at Eskom. However, Douw Steyn is no mere mortal — the founder of Auto & General has been described in the British press as being richer than the queen. According to the UK’s Sunday Times Rich list, in 2021 his insurance and financial services interests there netted him more than £2.95bn (about R71bn). And then there’s Steyn City, the sprawling R6.5bn gated estate next door to the densely populated township of Diepsloot, which boasts a 300m-long lagoon, helistop and Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course. Thursday evening marked the unveiling of the precinct’s latest jewel, a retail and spiffy apartment complex called City Centre. Driven there by luxe car service Hailo, on arrival we head through a walkway lined with snow-white cherry trees to an exclusive pre-event at the newly opened The Gallery. This is the latest foray by Trent Read, the brother of fellow art luminary Mark Read and whose father, Everard Read, founded the continent’s oldest known commercial gallery. It is there that I catch up with another arts figure, Ismail Mohamed, who has gone from heading the Grahamstown Arts Festival to UKZN’s Centre for Creative Arts. “What’s the difference between the two gigs?” I ask. “With Grahamstown, you work the whole year towards one festival and one orgasm, whereas [now] there are seven festivals, which means seven orgasms, which is fantastic,” answers the playwright and cultural administrator. Up comes Michael Harrison who, with Sharon Fihrer, is the founder of the renowned Head Interiors, which decorated one of the complex’s show apartments (disclosure: one of my side hustles is handling social media for the firm). Next, I meet Giuseppe Plumari, the Italian developer who helped realise Douw’s vision, but no appearance by the man of the hour, who, legend has it, now runs his empire from inside a germ-free bubble in his nearby sprawling mansion, Palazzo Steyn. Instead, I catch up with Douw’s bubbly wife, Carolyn Steyn, who, when she addresses us, admits that when Douw first told mates such as Madiba and Bill Clinton his building plans, she thought he had lost the plot. “And here we are 20 years later, living the dream... and this is Douw Steyn’s legacy,” she says, turning to Guiseppe to thank him for actioning her husband’s vision. Guiseppe points out that the development has created 50,000 jobs, with many going to their Diepsloot neighbours. Carolyn and Guiseppe unveil a handsome bronze bust of the business titan sculptured by Heidi Hadaway. Inside the gallery I bump into someone who had also heard Douw talk of “a forest with houses”. “This is an investment to the country,” pronounces Bantu Holomisa. “Does the general also own a property on the estate?” I ask the president of the UDM. “I am comfortable in my shack in Mqanduli,” he replies. Other guests included radio producer Brian Heathfield, Tshepo Molabe and Aobakwe Modisakeng, and Carolyn’s sister Sharon Barkhuizen. When we head into the central piazza where the main festivities take place, I meet my third Sharon for the evening — Douw’s lawyer Sharon Wapnick who, as heiress to the Octodec and Premier Properties fortune, is regularly listed as one of the richest women on the continent. Sharon, whose nod to the “glamour with a touch of black and gold” dress code included a cool pair of black leather pants, attended with her husband Frank Kramer. Eats-wise, this was a bash where you don’t go home hungry — from pea and mint arancini balls, mini crostinis topped with rare roast beef and fresh oysters with a celery and tabasco sorbet served at the gallery and onto fillet kebabs with a creamy Dijon sauce, pork chipolatas, smoked salmon potato cakes and Welsh rarebit brioche. And don’t forget the ice-cream treats from Paul’s, coffees from Seattle Coffee shop and the decadent churros with dipping chocolate from Paquitos, which delighted my sweet tooth. And, with show producer David Bloch at the helm, this was a multisensory entertainment experience where mime artists clad in head-to-toe gold mingled among us, trapeze artists dangled above while musically we were treated to performances by Mi Casa and tenors Given Mabena and Lucky Sibande, who were joined by soprano Loveline Madumo for a soaring rendition of Nessun dorma. On to fit creatures who have medals for days thanks to their prowess in the pool, on the track and on the beach at a launch of a new campaign by an energy drink. And, no, it isn’t that brand which saw shoppers flock to Checkers for a taste of the bev that has been banned in Australian schools due to its high caffeine content. Rather, the grand daddy of sports drinks, Powerade, has opted for a gentler approach with the motto, “Pause for Power”. It enlisted award-winning sports folk such as Caster Semenya, Tatjana Schoenmaker, Ryle De Morny and a fitness influencer called Mapule Ndhlovu to tell us how they reflect and recharge. It was held on Tuesday afternoon at The Venue, the function space atop the 20storey Greenpark building in Sandton. With guests asked to turn up in their athleisure wear, this was a tracksuit and kicks affair that was slow to start and with a break between proceedings which took longer than a half-time. Gold medal to Candice Modiselle for a flawless and bubbly turn as an MC (she stayed on script without the need of an iPad) and here’s a first for a fancy do — we all got to stretch after cushions came out and Ryle got us on our knees to “unlock something in your body that’s going to feel incredible and something you can take with you, wherever you are”.