Finally, the Mall of Africa has arrived and the residents of Midrand can breathe a breath of fresh air, well that is if they wait a few weeks till the hype has died down.
My family and I were fortunate enough to attend the grand opening of the 131 000 square metre mall on Thursday 28 April 2016. Since we are used to the area we knew the easiest way with less congestion to get in to the mall, so what took some 2 to 3 hours, only took us 30 minutes. The mall which covers 550 000 square metres and is home to over 300 stores, was not as majestic nor did it have the wow factor that the statistics portrayed it to be.
The location is central to the Gauteng region as it is situated halfway between Johannesburg and Pretoria, in the Midrand area. Access to the mall should be very easy as it is just off the Allandale off ramp on the N1 Highway. For now it is not as easy as there are thousands of cars trying not only to get into the mall but also to the hospital, residence, schools and local businesses which are situated close by in the Waterfall City. The original access roads around the mall are being revamped and some roads are still under construction.
Inside the mall there are plenty of parking spaces available with 6500 parking bays. Although, a lot of shoppers decided that they would rather not pay the exorbitant parking fees and chose to leave their cars outside the mall. Some were not so lucky to find their car when they returned, with 40 cars reported stolen, 38 of which were actually either misplaced or had mysteriously been moved to a location far from where the shoppers claimed to have parked.
Even though the security was not really jacked up as it should for such an event, there was a police presence, both from JMPD who were trying to direct traffic and SAPS who were on stand-by as a few days earlier there was a bit of taxi violence. The Randburg Taxi Association and Midrand Taxi Association are fighting over the territory. Randburg Taxi owners have been servicing the Kyalami area for years now but in recent months due to the influx of new business and shopping complexes they have asked the Midrand Taxi owners to assist on occasions. This seems to be where the confusion has come about and has sparked a war which still has not been resolved.
The taxi war did not seem to deter commuters from getting to the mall as shops like Game, Dion Wired and Checkers Hyper had queues of people down their respective wings of the mall, trying to get in to their stores to take advantage of the specials on offer. Other retails like Woolworths who were relatively empty in comparison, were giving away R1000 vouchers to entice customers to come into their store. With Pick N Pay and Spar not in the mall Checkers seems to have capitalised the market with their low prices and array of products.
Take-Aways in the food court like KFC, McDonald's and Anat were very busy with queues around the food court area. Management of Anat have confirmed that the store is Halaal but at the time of opening had not received the certificate. Hello Tomato, Spur, Krispy Kreme and Cinnabon also had a relatively fair amount of customers. Gerry Thomas from Krispy Kreme who has already opened two stores in South Africa (Rosebank and Sandton Gautrain Station) was pleased with the opening of the Mall of Africa. Thomas also said that they were going to be opening an hour earlier than the mall hours and also closing an hour later than the mall everyday. Haagen Dasz, Sweets From Heaven, Steers, Debonairs, Senhor Calistos, Simply Asia, Pizza Hut and Fish Aways have not opened for business yet, but all should be in the next few days.
It was a bit surprising to see a mall without a Nando's though and one would also think that Chicken Licken might have represented the African brand as well. International brands that did not make it to the mall included Burger King and Dominos.
The upstairs restaurants and coffee shops are also neither here nor there, with some stores like Roca Mama's and Casa Bella open to trade, and others like Mythos and Ocean Basket still putting the finishing touches when we viewed the section. Local coffee shop Tribeca is still under construction as well as Pretoria's famous fine dining restaurant Kream. The owner of Kream, Tufan Yerebakan told us that the store should open its doors by next weekend (7th - 9th May). Starbucks on the other hand was ready for business and had about a 5 minute wait in the line to get in. One of the managers, Nadia, said that they were prepared for the opening of this store as a week before they had opened their first store in South Africa in Rosebank which was quite a big event. Their grand opening was set for Saturday 30 April 2016.
Fashion retail stores like H&M also attracted quite a big crowd with their opening specials. Cotton On boasts their biggest store in the world is situated in the mall. New editions to the international branded stores already in South Africa, include Zara Home and Helly Hansen.
Local brands like Freedom of Movement lured customers into their store with a free ice-cream from Everyday Gourmet Foods, while others like Cotton Kids and CNA gave free popcorn, candy floss and slush puppies to customers who purchased from their stores.
Food and Fashion seem to be the main theme at the Mall of Africa but what about entertainment? Ster Kinekor movies seem to be the only form of entertainment at the moment with their IMAX theatres and their Prestige (upmarket theatre) brands forming part of the cinema experience. Located in between the Food Court, they are not to be missed. With the crowds in the rest of the mall, some chose to sneak in to the movies for a few hours until the madness had settled. Irshaad Mahomed of Ster Kinekor said it was a good day for them.
Besides the movies there is no other form of entertainment. There were no trampolines, ice-skating, bowling, games arcade or even just the little Mr Funtubbles rides that you would usually see in the aisles of the bigger malls in South Africa.
Kids were not really considered when the mall was being developed. Hamley's is the only toy store in the entire mall which was also quite a disappointment as it is smaller than their usual stores, and did not have any play areas/stations for kids like their other stores.
The mall does offer Muslims with prayer facilities but that too was also not ready, and should be in the next few days.
I am quite disappointed as I expected more hype and probably more from the mall as well. With a name like Mall of Africa one would expect more African stores or at least a bit more South African stores.
Personally I feel the stores were not ready for the opening and probably the mall as well, as many stores are only opening, or only having their grand opening in a few days time.
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