In 2013, Shanghai Zendai announced its US$7.8 billion plan to turn a suburb of Johannesburg into the "New York of Africa".

Now the Hong Kong-listed company - which plans to build 35,000 houses, a finance centre and a sports stadium in the South African city in 15 years - is throwing its weight behind the nation's art scene, and a topic that is touchy back on home soil.

Zendai Development South Africa, its local subsidiary, has donated 250,000 rand (HK$147,500) to enable 36 South African artworks that champion democracy to be displayed at the Beijing International Art Biennale. The money will cover transportation and insurance costs.

The property development giant is a known patron of the arts, having established the Zendai Museum of Modern Art, in Shanghai; the company's founder, and chairman until May, is Dai Zhikang, whose personal art collection is worth US$80 million, according to Art Market Monitor.

The artworks for the biennale have been chosen from an exhibition produced by the University of Johannesburg and the Appalachian State University, in North Carolina, in the United States, which features 500 pieces celebrating 20 years of democracy in South Africa.

Co-curator Gordon Froud says that while individual South African artists have participated in the biennale before, there has never been a group showing from the nation: "Just being at the biennale will open doors for South African artists. It exposes them to a global audience."

Anthony Diepenbroek, chief executive of Zendai Development South Africa, says, "Our commitment and support go beyond simply promoting local artists. We want the world to view this art as the voice of democracy."

The biennale, which takes place from September 24 to October 16, is in its sixth edition and will include artists from 87 countries and regions. In previous years, it has attracted audiences of more than one million people.

This year's theme is "Memory and Dream"; an ideal fit for South Africans imagining the future of their democracy while trying to quiet the ghosts of apartheid.

The Zendai sponsorship will also enable one South African artist to travel to the biennale. Jaco van Schalkwyk, 33, who works in oils, says he's excited about his first trip to China.

"Having an artwork at the biennale is a privilege and being able to tell our story in China is remarkable," he says. "I was in primary school when apartheid ended and grew up in a time of democracy. But South Africa today is still dealing with many challenges.

"I believe as artists we can tell these stories, which are relevant to people all over the world."