While sustained mismanagement of Eskom is pulling South Africa backward, the kind of positive change our country needs is happening right now in our capital city.
Every day, brick by brick, pipe by pipe, cable by cable, a once-broken city is being nurtured back to fine form. I am extremely proud of the progress Mayor Solly Msimanga’s team has made in Tshwane since taking over administration in August 2016. The parties in its DA-led coalition council have risen above party politics and worked together constructively to lay a solid foundation for future delivery. This can be replicated across Gauteng after the 2019 election.
There is still a lot of work to be done to realise their aim of a resilient city that provides opportunities for all to prosper. Frankly, they inherited a city in debt, disarray and decay. But already, nearing the end of the first full reporting year, SA’s capital city is in a good state.
And that’s because it is in good hands. In early 2017, Msimanga’s team recruited an excellent City Manager and three highly skilled and experienced people to head up governance support, finance and operations. Having quality leadership that runs a clean, honest administration free of corruption is fundamental to creating a stable, successful government.
The philosophy underpinning the team’s approach is inspired by American billionaire Warren Buffet, who reminds people that “someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago”. Since coming into office in August 2016, their focus has been on achieving financial sustainability and on investing in repairs, maintenance and upgrades of bulk infrastructure, to put the city on a firm footing for future growth.
Financial stability and excellent bulk infrastructure are not the most visible first steps to take, but they are the most important, because once they are in place, the possibilities are endless. They enable the city to deliver reliable, affordable services and to build an environment that attracts investment and is generally conducive to creating jobs and opportunities for all residents.
I am very happy to report that Tshwane’s finances are in good standing. Since taking over the running of the city, cash and cash equivalents at the end of the financial year improved by 91% from R1,1 billion in 2015/16 to R2,1 billion in 2016/17. Unauthorised expenditure was reduced by 63% from R1,66 billion in 2015/16 to R620 million in 2016/17 financial year. The City made an operating surplus of R704 million, which is R2 billion up from the previous year’s deficit – a very gratifying result.
This has been achieved by taking common sense steps like getting the administration out of the completely unaffordable smart meter contract, a previous administration scam which was fleecing residents. This move alone will save residents almost a billion rand a year. And they have introduced a new meter management system with automated meter reading process that enables correct and timely billing, improving revenue management for the City.
This focus on revenue growth and cost saving has enabled the team to provide a budget for maintenance and repairs of City infrastructure that is 21% greater than last year’s. Improved bulk infrastructure unlocks potential for future housing developments and comprehensive basic service delivery. The DA is committed to prioritizing the poorest residents and as such has allocated the bulk of capital expenditure to the regions that accommodate the poorest population of the city, mainly in township and informal settlement areas.
They have begun construction of bulk infrastructure projects in seven informal settlements to incrementally formalize these areas. Several housing projects are currently being implemented, while new land has been earmarked for future development.
Always the aim is to situate housing around areas with the highest potential for job creation, to maximise transport and work opportunities for residents. This investment by the City has unlocked R72.4 billion worth of private sector investment through projects which are already in the pipeline.
The City has identified and prioritized Automotive, Aerospace, Agro-processing, Tourism, Mining and Business Process Outsourcing as potentially high growth and job creation sectors and is targeting investment accordingly. Msimanga recognizes that what residents and particularly the youth need above all, is jobs. He can’t create them himself, but he can create the conditions for economic activity to flourish. His team is busy developing a programme to give free transport to unemployed youths looking for employment.
Msimanga’s people-first approach stands in stark contrast to that of the outgoing administration who put themselves first and residents last. Blue light convoys are a thing of the past and the lavish mayoral mansion has been sold and the proceeds are being used to build forty fully serviced RDP houses with title deeds in Atteridgeville.
The distribution of title deeds is a major focus for DA governments because individual property ownership means real empowerment and an opportunity for families to get the loans they need to start businesses and build intergenerational wealth. Tshwane is on track for reaching its target of delivering 6000 title deeds this financial year.
In the past, housing and work opportunities went to the politically loyal or connected. Now they are distributed in a fair and transparent way, using open recruitment and lottery systems.
Always, the team’s aim is to make life easier and better for all its residents. They have extended the opening hours at 14 of the City’s 24 primary health care facilities, all of which provide the full primary health care package. In the past year, they have managed to ensure that over 90% of essential medicines are available at these facilities at all times and they are in the process of partnering with local pharmacies and upgrading clinic dispensaries to further improve dispensing.
A major element of achieving a healthy city is fighting the scourge of drugs that has taken hold of poorer communities across South Africa. Msimanga’s team has established a specialized drug operations unit to fight and eliminate drug abuse in Tshwane. Across the city, drug lords and dealers are now feeling the heat.
The City is also funding a programme, the Community-Oriented Substance Use Programme (COSUP), to assist those suffering the consequences of substance abuse. But prevention is the best approach and so the city is supporting after school programmes in all seven regions, offering children sports, culture and homework assistance, to give them hope for a brighter, drug-free future. And three new social development centres are nearing completion.
Another aspect of a healthy city is a clean environment. The City is trying to transform its consumption and purchasing behavior towards greener buildings, cleaner fuel vehicles and a more sustainable energy mix. Msimanga envisages a reliable, efficient public transport service with lower emissions, that gradually decreases private car usage and eventually lessens congestion. Forty of the City’s 114-strong bus fleet are now running on compressed natural gas, making Tshwane the first city in sub-Saharan Africa to fund full CNG-propelled buses.
The city is determined to become a leader in sustainability, green technology and green systems. The city has developed a Climate Response Strategy to preserve green and open spaces, rivers and wetlands, all of which have social, economic and ecological value to residents. This will buttress the city against climate impacts. In recognition of these efforts, Mayor Msimanga has been asked to chair the Global Lead City Network on Sustainable Procurement.
This is the DA difference in action and Tshwane residents are starting to see it. In 2019, Gauteng residents can elect a government that will bring these positive changes and professional style of governance to all 13 million of the province’s citizens. Let’s replicate Tshwane’s successes across Gauteng.