Measuring square meters only goes so far in determining which mall is the “best” around, as a mall is typically evaluated along different lines by consumers. The nature of the retailers there, the ethos, the vibe, as well as the assumption of the standard anchor tenants (Pick n Pay or Checkers, Woolies, or a Super Spar at least, and preferably all of them) all contribute to a mall’s standing in the eyes of the public. That said, size can’t be ignored, and size goes some way towards defining the vibe as well. By the same token, Cradlestone Mall at the end of the N14 to Krugersdorp, coming from Pretoria, is huge, and vacuous. There’s an “ou tannie” feel to things there, especially when it’s quieter, so size can cut both ways, if you lack traffic.
Which is the biggest South African mall, actually?
To put paid to the persistent debate, and for those who rate malls on size, at least as a starting point worth investigating, the facts and figures might startle you. Here’s the low-down on South African malls, based on square meters of retail space. Did you know that South Africa is one of the most mall-populated countries in the world? Around 24 million square meters of shops are contained in the country’s malls, way more than most other countries. We seem to love the mall experience, or our retailers seem to love fleecing us as often as they can, one of the two. South Africa consistently ranks in the top 100 mall-loving countries of the world.
For those who found a home at Mall of Africa and have ever since been singing its praises, sorry. It’s not actually the biggest mall in Africa. And before Menlyn Mall fans start a victory dance, there’s more to consider too. If you want to be strictly factual, the biggest mall on the continent is actually Mall of Arabia, in Egypt. This Cairo mall covers a whopping 267,000 square meters, so let that temper your insistence a little. That’s almost 30 hectares – enough to become a very satisfied mielie boer – and an unashamed statement of consumer bliss. Back home, again, in spite of individual malls’ publicity, Durban’s Gateway Mall is the biggest at 220,000 square meters. Pity it’s in Durban though.
Second on our list comes the Menlyn Mall at 170,000 square meters, having recently spent R2 billion on adding a huge extension to things. Canal Walk in Cape Town actually pips it for third place, being 147,000 squares in extent, and, yep, Mall of Africa comes in at around 131,000 square meters. So that’s the ranking. Centurion Mall, by comparison, boasts around 113,000 square meters of retail shopping. And jammer Kaapstad, but the pretentiously named V & A Waterfront doesn’t even make 100,000 squares, sitting at 80-something thousand, although still pretty huge as a retail venue.
Size does count, but not much
What any comparison of “who’s got the biggest?” misses is that conventional demographics play a huge role in a mall’s “presence” and popularity. While there are certainly South Africans who will make a planned trip to a giant mall for the experience – and we’re working on a 24/7 helpline to counsel those rednecks – people normally rank malls based on convenience, and aesthetics too. In other words, closer is almost always better, and cheerful, light and breezy also outweighs giant concrete mausoleums any day for most folks.
Above 100,000 square meters, any mall should have pretty much all of the key stores you’d expect at a mall, where you can shop extensively and with suitable diversity for food, clothing and home goods. Luckily for Pretorians, both Menlyn Mall and Mall of Africa are close, so having to choose doesn’t have to be a huge decision. Mall of Africa is newer, but then Menlyn upgraded recently too, so it ultimately comes down to a personal evaluation of the energy inside these giant retail magnets. If you like the look and feel of a mall, never mind about how big it is, it will rank with you. As long as it caters for your needs and doesn’t make you feel like an alien strolling amongst humans, that’s your mall!