Johannesburg has a long way to go, but it’s heading in the right direction.
Joburg Mayor Herman Mashaba gave his second State of the City address on Wednesday, marking the first full reporting year under his leadership. I urge you to read this extract from his speech. Without doubt the Johannesburg we dream of is still a very long way away. But I am 100% confident the City is heading in the right direction.
Turning around a city in decline is like turning around a large ocean-going liner that is travelling in the wrong direction. First you must slow it down, then stop it, turn it around, get it moving in the right direction, and then power it up to full speed.
When a seven-party DA-led coalition took over the running of Cape Town in mid-2006, this is exactly the process that played out. By the end of 2007, visible change was not as marked as residents had expected. And yet behind the scenes, the right systems and processes were being put in place to get the city moving forward.
Mashaba’s team inherited road, water and electrical networks all in a dire state of decay, a massive service delivery backlog and a monstrous debt of R17 billion, R5 billion of which was due this year. With scarce resources and huge demands on multiple fronts, prioritizing is everything and trade-offs are unavoidable. Mashaba is clear about his top priorities.
Firstly, he is determined that the rule of law will prevail in Johannesburg. His team has taken a zero tolerance approach to crime and corruption because the social costs of these are unacceptable. As he points out, the R18 billion of fraud and corruption under investigation would have been enough to build houses for all 152 000 people on Joburg’s housing list. “Our fight against corruption WILL NEVER rest in this City.”
They are building a well-trained, well-equipped metro police force to fight deep-rooted lawlessness, with 1500 newly recruited additional JMPD officers currently undergoing training. They are targeting criminal syndicates (particularly the major dealers and distributors of drugs) through a dedicated narcotics unit, reclaiming hijacked buildings, cracking down on the illegal consumption of services and facilitating the processing of undocumented immigrants by Home Affairs. Joburg must be “a dangerous place for criminals”.
Secondly, Mashaba is determined to build a highly capable, professionalized civil service that prioritises service delivery to the poor. “Nothing we do will be more important than this, because the accumulative effort of having 33 000 employees committed to a common cause – which is our people – will exceed all other interventions we can possibly achieve.”
Already they have cut wasteful expenditure by R480 million and tripled the spend on repairs and maintenance of infrastructure from 2% under the previous government to 6% this year. If wealthier residents can’t yet see any visible change in delivery, it is because Herman’s team is concentrating their efforts on where services are needed most: in the informal settlements where communities still lack even the most basic of services.
RDP houses are being built, serviced sites and other housing options are being planned, title deeds are being delivered, potholes are being filled, roads are being tarred and maintained – all at a significantly higher rate than under the previous government. But the backlog is staggering; even many township residents are yet to experience material improvements to their lives. The ship is well and truly turned around, but it is by no means moving at full speed.
Mashaba is the first to admit this. “It has to be the focus of our government to ensure that the pace of change increases, and that it reaches into the lives of more people, more businesses and more communities.”
And thirdly, Mashaba is determined to make Joburg a place that is attractive to investors and entrepreneurs. He recognizes this is the only way to ensure sustainable job creation, which is the only viable route to economic freedom and social stability.
And already his commitment to cleaning up the inner city, fighting lawlessness and wooing investors is bearing fruit. “At this mid-year point, R5.6 Billion of external investment has been injected into our City which has already exceeded the annual target, and the achievement of any full prior year in our City’s history.”
He is rolling out Opportunity Centres, which offer a basket of services to assist small businesses, including registering companies on the City’s supplier database and training to improve the ability of SMMEs to tender for city projects. These Centres will house a Work Seekers’ Database where qualifying people can register to benefit from temporary work opportunities in the City on a fair and rotational basis.
An artisan training programme is in the pipeline for young people, which will serve the dual purpose of fighting youth unemployment and providing the skills needed by a growing economy. Red-tape is being progressively cut. In the past financial year, they have processed 95% of submitted building plans within 30 - 60 days.
In fighting crime and corruption, growing a capable state and making Joburg attractive to investors, Mashaba’s team is laying the foundations for what they call “Diphetogo”, a seSotho word that can be directly interpreted to mean real, transformational change. “It captures the idea that change is not an event but a process.” I am confident that Diphetogo has taken root, and that all the people of Johannesburg will one day share in its fruit.
In the coming weeks, I will share with you the progress we are making in the DA-led metros of Tshwane, NMB and Cape Town, and in the Western Cape.