Johannesburg -- a Third World class city?

David Bullard says the city increasingly resembles the war torn places we see on our TV screens

My fellow Politicsweb contributor Douglas Gibson asked why the ANC governs so badly earlier this week.  He compares the third world dump that Johannesburg has become with the pristine state of Cape Town and comes to the conclusion that it must have something to do with the party running the municipality. Bang on the nail Douglas and, in this instance, we'll overlook the fact that you're a past Chief Whip of the DA and that an election is barely a year away.

As many of my readers know I am now long of a property in Somerset West and struggling to sell the property in Johannesburg. Despite the proximity of wine farms and beautiful scenery the decision to move to the Western Cape after 32 years in Johannesburg was solely motivated by the fact that things seem to work better down there.

I spoke to one of my new neighbours and she told me that dealing with people at the local vehicle licensing office or home affairs is a pleasure. She even tried to convince me that the traffic cops will stop and help you should they see you have broken down on the N2. We haven't seen that sort of service for years in Jo'burg. Here we prefer our traffic cops fat and brutish and always looking for a bribe.

The Joburg property market is known to be sluggish at the moment and we've only been on the market for just under four months. Friends took over a year to sell their house. One of the problems is the availability of home loans and our property is on the market at above the magic level of R2.5 mln. Since we're not in any great hurry to sell we're happy to hang on for a higher price but we know we are going to have to drop our original asking price. The problem isn't the house, it's the neighbourhood.

Although we're on a main road, the state of the pavements and the piles of litter are appalling. I clean the pavement outside my house on a regular basis but many of my neighbours don't bother. Their view is that they pay their rates so somebody else should be cleaning up. And that's part of our problem. As rubbish accumulates outside a house it becomes an invitation to drop more rubbish because, after all, who's going to notice?

So as I walk down to my local Woollies I kick through discarded burger containers, crushed coke cans and all sorts of malodorous detritus. There used to be plastic rubbish bins for people to dispose of their litter but they disappeared long ago; either torn off the lampposts or melted as they were ideal fireplaces for local arsonists with nothing better to do.

Apart from the piles of uncollected garbage and the general litter there always seems to be a stream of water running down the gutter of my road. I walk through the suburbs to Zoo Lake every morning and am staggered at how many water meters are flooding and how many stagnant pools of water there are lying around in dangerous potholes.

Some get fixed but within a week or two they are leaking again. One huge flooded hole in the road in Parkwood was there for three months. When there is a hole in the road there's rarely adequate warning that it's there resulting in damage to cars and potential fatalities. This doesn't seem to bother the municipality unduly because they know that if we sue them we are effectively suing ourselves.

The state of many of our roads is terrible and, as Mr Gibson points out, failing to maintain them just leads to even costlier repairs down the line. But since the municipality have no intention of spending our rates money on road maintenance that's not really an issue.

When people ask my expert opinion on what new car they should buy these days I generally reply "anything with a high ground clearance and as much rubber between the driver and the road as possible". Why do you think Korean MPV's are selling so well in the northern suburb?

If you thought the roads were bad though, you should see the state of the pavements. On most roads it is now difficult to use the pavements if you are an able bodied person wearing thick soled hiking boots. If you are elderly (and I'm getting there) or blind it would be well nigh impossible. And if you are unfortunate enough to be in a wheelchair then there is no hope of you getting down to the local shops in one piece.

The pavement outside my house has now been dug up so many times to lay cables for the cell phone companies that the frequent uneven applications of new tar would overturn the most careful wheelchair driver. A few weeks ago the water meter was buried under a layer of tar. Fortunately we noticed and it was exhumed but now sits about 4cm below the surface of what passes for the pavement.

A friend's water meter stopped working after many attempts to bury it alive and he is now fighting the local municipality over an absurd water bill. In Jo'burg you have to pay first and fight later. Maybe that's why Mayor Tau has a R4 bln surplus this year. Do I see a fact finding mission to Las Vegas coming up soon?

So why does Johannesburg increasingly resemble the sort of war torn places we see on our TV screens? Is it because the ANC can't govern? I can' believe that to be the case. I have no doubt that there are many dedicated people working at municipal level who are as frustrated as ratepayers by what goes on. I only have to look at our parks to know that something is working. After a litter strewn weekend Zoo Lake is normally looking great by mid morning Monday.

I suspect the malaise that is affecting Jo'burg is the same malaise that is bringing down the country as a whole (sorry to be negative FW). It's all about cadre deployment; putting your chums into high paying jobs for which they are so obviously unsuited. It's also about the culture of unaccountability and blame shifting. If you work for the government as an ANC loyalist you know that your job is safe come what may. Worse case scenario is that you will be suspended on full pay while your case is investigated over the next ten years.

The famous saying that if you pay peanuts you get monkeys is true to an extent. Johannesburg's problem is that it isn't paying peanuts and yet we're still getting appalling services.

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