The heart of the beat of Potchefstroom

Driving along the N14 my thoughts naturally turn to other travellers – not that there are too many of them on this long stretch of road. It’s simply a long, reasonably straight road along little small farm communities. As the tyres hiss across the tar, I have only one thing in my sights and that is my destination. Liezl Maclean writes... For me to turn off on the way is almost unthinkable, even though I am not particularly rushed for time. Although it is only one hour’s drive from the frenetic bustle of Johannesburg, my destination in the heart of the North West Province couldn’t have arrived any sooner. It is clear that the idea of tourism has reached my former student town. But this event only happens once a year.

You see, every year during the last weeks of September the southern region of the North West Province prepares itself for a potent explosion of culture, to the delight of local and international festival goers. The celebration takes place in Potchefstroom – a bustling town filled with students, and the perfect location for a week’s worth of culture and the arts.

People from all over the country flock to Potch to enjoy a five-day party at the Aardklop (roughly translated as ‘the beat of the earth’) Arts Festival, which is one of the largest festivals in the country attracting tens of thousands of visitors, and showcases every genre of the arts in both mainstream and fringe performances

This cultural festival held in various venues in and around Potch incorporates Afrikaans theatre, dance, music, cabaret and visual arts – and brings the town to life.

Open-air performances, craft markets, pubs and coffee shops enhance the open areas in the Bult district of Potchefstroom. This year the event drew in excess of 170 000 and 180 000 visitors from all areas of South Africa and neighbouring states.

Dozens of theatres around the festival reflect the constant growth of South African theatre during the past ten years with cutting-edge debut productions. The vast number of beer tents around the town also proves that Aardklop is a festival to be enjoyed thoroughly.

Walking down the Bult – which is an area synonymous with the student community of Potch – I am once again reminded of why I fell in love with the place when I was a student. Not only does it offer a wide variety of restaurants and other eating places but it also presents a 6.84km long Oak Avenue.

The avenue has been coined as a national monument and contributes to the picturesque atmosphere of Steve Biko Avenue (previously known as Tom Street). The trees, planted in 1910, form the longest avenue of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.

Bursting with theatre, music, art and crafts the and a big helping of home-grown cultural zest, the oak-lined streets of the student town has a lot more to offer than just the national arts festival. Potchefstroom also boasts with a booming property market.

Property in Potch is as varied as its arts festival. Despite the current general slowdown in the residential property market, Debbie Bronkhorst, a sectional title specialist agent at the Aida Potchefstroom Office says there is still a tremendous demand for private student housing, “It represents about 70 per cent of our sales in the sectional title market every year”.

Bronkhorst notes that overseas investors are active in this market. “Many are ex-students who are working overseas and are building local property portfolios. Most enquiries originate in Britain, but we field requests from investors as far afield as the Middle East,” she says.

Anybody who has made a trip to Potch – no matter how brief – will tell you that the heart of the town lies somewhere near the University. The beautiful North-West campus boasts with two national monuments: the Main building and Heimat Hostel.

Berry Everitt, MD of the Chas Everitt International group, points out that student accommodation holds great potential as a property investment that is virtually recession proof. “Demand for rental units near campuses is increasing rapidly as student numbers and waiting lists for university residences grow.”

“And the pattern is set to continue in future thanks to the country's large percentage of young people and the increasing emphasis placed on tertiary education to plug skills shortages,” Everitt says matter-of-factly.

The key to a successful investment is to target areas close to campuses. Rents and occupancy rates rise in direct relation to the distance the property is from campus. Bronkhorst believes units close to campus are solid investments and, because of constant demand, are easier to sell once students graduate.

“Prices nearer the campus range between R12 000 and R14 000 per square metre as opposed to units 2km and further away where prices range between R8 500 and R10 000 per square metre”, she explains.

Moreover Everitt believes that finding a tenant for your student housing is no more arduous than keeping the property listed with an agency affiliated with the University. “Many institutions compile free property listings and distribute the list to prospective students at the end of each academic year,” he says.

But perhaps for some of you, the thought of letting students loose in your investment property may be too much to contemplate. However careful selection of the property you choose as an investment may limit annual maintenance.

“Elements to keep in mind in this regard include robust surfaces such as floor and wall tiles or washable paint and basic fittings that can be replaced at little cost,” says Everitt. He continues: “A breakage deposit paid by tenants should go a long way to cover the replacement cost of basic fittings damaged accidentally”.

And, speaking of maintenance, the annual summer vacation at the end of the academic year is an ideal time to attend to basics such as cleaning up and making repairs. Even students who renew their contracts for the next year - and thus pay the rent over the holiday period - are likely to spend their holidays elsewhere, giving landlords plenty of time to do maintenance.

Potchefstroom has developed into a leading city in the province and in South Africa. Today, Potchefstroom combines a strong agricultural economy with a friendly, buzzing community and university life and a generous hospitality. Investors may be rewarded by keeping an eye on the town and the University.

Article by: Liezl Maclean -