Property Flash


June 14 2023

This is a guest piece by Ashleigh Müller, Principal Commercial Property Broker and Managing Director of Ask Ash National Property Brokerage

With internet and communication technology having become so much more accessible and dependable around the world in the past few years, a new class of worker has emerged; the digital nomad.

These are often entrepreneurs who run their own businesses entirely from their laptops and hence can work from anywhere in the world. Some digital nomads are freelance professionals who provide services for multinationals or offshore groups, from the comfort of their apartments. Specialists like these are spreading across our planet, looking to work in attractive locales. Of course, this can become expensive with cities like New York and Dubai heavy on the pocket. But now South Africa is entering the conversation as nomads come to appreciate how much relative value for money cities such as Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban offer. Some are even finding their way to quieter nooks like St Francis Bay and Knysna.

The lobby for a digital visa to formalise the digital nomad experience is also gaining in fervour.

Essentially, foreigners cannot work in SA without a work permit. However, digital nomads typically visit SA and work for months on a project. They however do not threaten other people’s jobs in the country. They work for themselves and spend money in the economy. They might even give work to South Africans who can enhance their projects.

A digital nomad visa would allow these people to stay and work for a few months, generating economic activity and benefitting the country. These nomads are bringing a new kind of business tourism to our developing cities. They are often well-heeled Europeans, Asians and Americans who want to enjoy eating at our restaurants, staying in our hotels, and partying in our night clubs.

Let’s embrace these digital nomads as they find themselves in cosmopolitan cities such as Cape Town and the enigmatic Johannesburg.

The world has opened through globalisation which has been driven by better freedom of movement, education, and technology.

Digital nomads are attracted to diversity and opportunities. They don’t want to be tied down. South Africa’s government at all levels needs to put the laws, policies, regulations, and conditions in place to accommodate digital nomads. This includes the national government implementing the nomad visa.

Nomads want to stay in well-managed CBDs which make it easy for them to access inner cities. Cape Town’s CBD stands out as the best CBD in the country. Europeans appreciate that activities stem from inner cities. Unfortunately, in Johannesburg and Durban’s cases, their inner cities have been neglected. Nomads may be more inclined to stay in Gauteng’s Sandton CBD, the commercial centre of the province. There they can work in shared workspaces managed or owned by companies such as WeWork and Growthpoint’s partner, Workshop17. Sandton is supported strongly by the private sector and the private-public partnership: the Sandton Central Management District (SCMD). The SCMD’s District Improvement Manager explains how post Covid-19, the Sandton Central district has embraced a post-Covid-19 world. There are numerous co-working spaces popping up as well as new food and beverage businesses such as restaurants, health and coffee spots and hip product sellers like vape and CBD goods shops.

But the Johannesburg inner city itself does still offer pockets of excellence. Various digital nomads are running non-profit or semi non-profit programmes out of the inner city. They often work for global aid and government agencies.

Cape Town’s Central City Improvement District (CCID) is highly active in making the city open for business. CEO of the CCID, Tasso Evangelinos, explains that CCID manages to assist in an assortment of ways including cleaning, improving private security and helping businesses communicate any issues they have with the City. 

Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis and his office are supporting the call for the implantation of a functional digital nomad visa. They fully appreciate that the digital nomad is a new class of tourist. SA Tourism and business development organisations are also trying to draw more digital nomads to the country’s metropoles as well as quaint seaside towns like Kempton and natural hideaway haunts like Wilderness, in the Cape.    

Digital nomads come from all sorts of destinations, be it Germany, Spain, London, Nigeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia or the United States.

Murray Clark, CEO of Neighbourgood, a group which develops shared work and living spaces across Cape Town, has digital nomads staying at his properties regularly. The group which launched in June 2020, owns 500 living units and 500 workstations across a spread of buildings in Cape Town, many of which are in the heart of Cape Town’s CBD such as Neighbourgood East City and Neighbourgood Reserve.

They include living and working spaces with exceptional amenities, and a connected community; with full-furnished living and working spaces. The leases are highly flexible which attracts an assortment of people who may wish to stay in the inner city for two weeks, a month, three months or longer.

“We have such a variety of people living and working in our buildings including foreigners and people who semigrate or stay in the Cape for the summer. Many of these people are digital nomads who typically work remotely in tech-related jobs for specialised offshore groups or for themselves. Cape Town is the kind of city which offers what these people desire in terms of lifestyle. At Neighbourgood, we do our utmost to ensure that the services we provide are world class and suit these people’s needs,” says Clark.

SA’s large metropoles also attract people from creative industries such as advertising agencies and streaming entertainment production companies. Digital nomads can also include back-end software engineers and other tech support.

“Our CBD is attracting large companies such as life and personal finance groups as has been typical of Cape Town for years, but it is also attracting smaller specialised digital nomads who work across an assortment of industries,” says Clark.

These people also like to build communities so that their businesses can collaborate with one another. These communities are easier to build in well-run CBDs where people often stay walking distance from each other.  

One of Neighbourgood’s properties which is perfect for nomads is Neighbourgood Bree Street Workspace; one of 19 co-working spaces in the Cape Town CBD.

“The position is in a commercial hub of the city and we find nomads typically stay here for a period of two weeks to a few months. Many want to stay longer and would do say if they had access to a nomad visa,” says Clark.

Apartment owners across SA are also using Airbnb and renting their homes out to nomads during peak seasons.

One Thibault, formerly the BP Centre, the tallest residential building in the Mother City for example, includes an aparthotel and Airbnb has become very popular with business travellers, including digital nomads. There are 257 luxury suites available for short or long-term lets through ITC Hospitality.

One Thibault sits the Foreshore meaning its residents have superb views of Cape Town’s natural sites as well as access to the V&A Waterfront and other lifestyle amenities.

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