Redeveloping the Johannesburg CBD
Current business: Councillor in City of Johannesburg
Current position: Member of the Mayoral Committee for Economic Development
Books currently reading: Licence to Loot – Stephan Hofstatter
Life motto: If you can’t change something don’t waste time procrastinating over it – focus your energy to where you can make a difference.
Meet the MMC of Economic development for the City of Joburg
For this month’s Master Investor we sit down with a women leading the inner city redevelopment and rejuvenation of Johannesburg CBD, Leah Knott.
Knott is currently serving as the MMC for the City’s Department of Economic Development along with being the Ward Councillor for Ward 97, which includes Ruimsig, Poortview, Wilgeheuwel, Honeydew and Radiokop. Knott holds a legal qualification and prior to becoming a councillor worked in the property development planning industry.
Completing her schooling career at Jeppe High School for girls in 2000, Knott pursued her tertiary studies at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). Knott initially wanted to study law as her history teacher, Mrs Edwards was the inspiration behind the dream but was advised to pursue more of a business orientated career and selected to study Marketing. Knott explains that study marketing did not fulfil her.
“Due to dissatisfaction in the career I had decided on, as it didn’t truly resonate with the need I had to make a difference, I withdrew from University in 2002 and enrolled for an LLB at Unisa, my true passion. Due to financial constraints I was not able to complete my degree and committed to working full time.”
A few years later, Knott was offered the opportunity to further her studies. A developer which Knott was working for offered her the opportunity to complete her law degree at their cost . “I will forever be grateful to them for seeing the potential I had as I would not be where I am without their assistance. Further education not only opens doors employment wise but it increases your confidence to dream bigger than what you had considered before,” said Knott
The career of a woman in leadership
Knott spent 12 years working at Verissimo Tavares Consulting and VTC Africa Investments, a company which focused on the architectural, construction and development sectors. Initially being placed in an assistive role with the company, Knott was later promoted to Project Coordination, Management and Client Liaison.
Knott gained valuable experience while working at these companies. “I was fortunate to have great mentors at this company and learnt most of what I know from relationships that were developed during this time. I feel this gave me a credible advantage when I decided to join Council.”
With experience in the municipal sector, for several years Knott worked as a ward-based community activist and volunteered in Ward 89 under the Ward Councillor Ingrid Reinten, Constituency Head – MPL Kate Lorimer and Constituency Chairperson Patrick McGee. Under the mentorship of these heads within the sector, Knott comments on what she learned while working with them.
“They taught me that women can hold strong leadership roles within their communities and drive change effectively through government (and yes one of them is a man – men play just as important a role in women realising they are worthy and important!),” said Knott
The invaluable support from these three women helped push Knott to pursue a position as the candidate for Ward 97 in the 2016 local government elections. Knott was successful in the elections and became Ward Councillor for Ward 97. Ward 97 covers areas such as Ruimsig, Poortview, Wilgeheuwel, Honeydew and Radiokop.
Her rise up the ladder did not stop there as Knott explains how she became MMC for Economic Development. “Within my first year as a Councillor I served on the Section 79 Development Planning Oversight Committee until the Executive Mayor, Councillor Herman Mashaba, requested that I join his cabinet as the MMC of Economic Development. I still hold my position as Ward Councillor in addition to this role.”
If one means success in terms of happiness then yes I am successful – I have a job I love that is challenging but fulfilling, a department with phenomenally motivated people, an Executive Director who really is my long lost twin, an amazing family and loyal friends,” she said
Some of her biggest achievements include an increased investment into the city, in a mere three years the Department of Economic Development went from facilitating R4.4-billion to over R16-billion.
|Investment facilitated||R2.6 billion||R3.2 billion||R4.538 billion||R4.451 billion||R8.69 billion||R16.355 billion|
Inner City rejuvenation
Within the next 10 years, the City’s Department of Economic Development aims to have the city become a construction city full of new developments and a redevelopment of dilapidated buildings into liveable and workable spaces.
Knott plans to implement projects that will uplift the economic state of Johannesburg and provide more job opportunities for residents. “Opportunity Seekers Database – a job seekers database that will regulate local employment within the City and which we plan to open to the private sector. This system removes the human element and will prevent corruption in terms of job placements,” explains Knott.
The department plans to implement partnerships with institutions to revamp the inner city investment roadmap. Other projects in the pipeline include the incentives policy which will go forward to council for public participation and include both financial and non-financial incentives.
Knott expands on the departments plans. “Informal trade policy to come to council to regulate that economy. A service provider has been appointed to manage this process over the next 6 months to ensure fairness and compliance with court orders issued over the previous terms. Investment Desk – a prioritisation desk for investors in partnership with Development Planning which will enhance dealings with the City and streamline processes so as to facilitate investment without unnecessary bureaucracy holding back growth,” Knott said.
Future of the property industry
The City has identified around 500 buildings, both privately and City owned to be released for the private sector investment. This includes identifying abandoned and derelict properties which the City is in the process of obtaining for private sector release via a willing buyer, willing seller basis or as a last resort via expropriation in line with the Constitution.
The City has already vastly increased investment into the area over the last three financial years to over R16 billion in the 2018/19 year which is outside of the inner city property release programme. This proves private investor confidence has steadily risen over the last few years.
What makes a great property investment?
Knott believes that buy in from the public and proper support for the government as well as realistic expectations makes a great property investment. “Converting a derelict property miles from commercial hubs into social housing for example achieves nothing except placing people further away from opportunities. Proper precinct planning and a land strategy from the side of the City greatly assists in achieving investment goals,” said Knott
Knott says that in terms of the inner city property releases, investors were selected based on specific criteria. “..investors were selected based on their proposals for the regeneration of the property concerned which included feasibility studies and financing where required.”
The MMC believes that government can never solely success in revitalising Johannesburg and that the secret to a successful investment climate is strong public private partnerships.
“A government wanting to entice investment to its doorstep needs to ensure that its economic environment is conducive through strong relationships, safe spaces and the ease of doing business with a City’s administration,” said Knott