Mayor Herman Mashaba’s State of the City Address, delivered last week, makes for brilliant reading. It fills one with hope for a future South Africa that is modern, united and working.
In Johannesburg, the foundations for that future are already being laid, because residents voted for change in 2016, and because a diverse group of parties has had the good sense to rise above their differences in pursuit of that change. Mashaba’s message is clear and authentic. It leaves no room for doubt that this is the way forward for SA: coalition government, so that no single party can abuse their power in our country ever again.
And they have their work cut out for them. They inherited a city in a parlous state of disrepair, a city with crumbling infrastructure and massive housing backlogs, a city held hostage by drug lords and crime. Most of Johannesburg’s 181 informal settlements have no basic services at all. Worst of all, 862 000 people are unemployed and youth unemployment is over 50%. It is unthinkable that the previous ANC government could have seen fit to build a R360 million new council chamber while people are subjected to these most dire conditions, living with indignity and in fear.
The violent protests that have flared up this week in Ennerdale, Eldorado Park and other areas around the country are fuelled by anger and frustration, the result of an ANC government that long ago stopped caring about the poor. South Africa is a powder keg of discontent. Every spark of protest has the potential to ignite a chain reaction of anarchy and destruction, which will produce even more suffering and frustration, but no winners. In some cases violence may be incited by opportunists fanning the flames in an effort to render DA-led cities ungovernable. It will not work.
Whatever the motivation, these protests are a measure of how disastrously ANC government has failed to deliver on its promises. They are an early warning system for the widespread chaos that might ensue if we don’t make some drastic changes very soon. Perhaps more than any other indicator, these protests highlight the urgency of a complete political realignment in South Africa. The people of Johannesburg opted for that in August 2016, and already many communities are experiencing real change, with so much more on its way.
Mashaba’s team has made a clear break from the previous way of doing things. They have a categorically pro-poor agenda. On assuming office, they immediately set about redirecting funding towards electrifying houses, tarring roads, extending clinic operating hours, improving waste removal and providing housing in the poorest communities. Going forward, a minimum of 60% of the City’s capital expenditure will be on projects in underserviced areas.
To reverse massive unemployment, they have a target to achieve a minimum of 5% economic growth in the city by 2021. They intend for Johannesburg to be the engine room of SA’s economic growth. Undoubtedly, economic stagnation is the root cause of protest action. The team is establishing an investment desk in the mayor’s office, and small business (SME) hubs throughout the city, with the sole focus of making Johannesburg as business-friendly as possible.
Mashaba’s motto is “service with pride” and his team is dedicated to building a professional, committed and responsive civil service, which will help to attract investment and spur growth and job creation. They have initiated an independent skills audit to ensure that every manager is there because of what they know and not who they know. They inherited a billing system in shambles, and have already made great strides in improving revenue collection, which in turn produces more funding for service delivery. In March 2017 they collected over R3 billion in revenue, far exceeding their budgeted amount of R2.6 billion. It is the first time the City has ever exceeded the R3 billion mark, and they are confident of reaching the R4 billion mark by July 2017. And every cent must be well spent.
Mashaba’s team takes a zero tolerance approach to corruption, and has appointed General Shadrack Sibiya to head up their new internal investigations unit in the City. It has already exposed and prevented R2 billion of fraud and corruption, and 30 city employees have been arrested, with an additional 91 employees suspended and 3 resignations as a result of the unit’s work. Over 300 cases are under investigation, and a total of R10 billion is alleged to have been lost or misused. In stark contrast, Mashaba’s team has established an open tender system in which bid adjudication meetings are open to the public and the media. Transparency kills corruption.
Their recently completed comprehensive housing waiting list is going to be made public too, as soon as its audit is complete. And they have handed out 2800 title deeds to date, with an additional 1100 ready to be handed over. Title deeds confer ownership, wealth and dignity. Importantly, having a title to a home provides residents with the economic opportunity to better their lives and enter the mainstream economy.
The revitalization of Johannesburg’s inner city is a key element in their quest for 5% economic growth. To fight crime, they are in the process of putting another 1500 metro police officers on the streets, and have launched a Narcotics Unit which has already made 597 arrests and recovered 100kgs of drugs, 463 stolen or hijacked vehicles, 1044 stolen items of property and 52 firearms.
Mashaba’s diverse team can be exceptionally proud of what they have achieved so far, but they are not blind to the enormity of the challenge which still lies ahead. The magnitude of the backlogs is staggering. One shudders to imagine the scale of unnecessary decay and suffering had the residents of Johannesburg waited another five years before choosing real change. And this is the key lesson to be learnt from the protests flaring up around South Africa. There is no time to lose. South Africans must vote for real change, nationwide, in 2019. A post-ANC South Africa is not only possible, it is the only way forward.