Joburg is in ruins – but it can, and will be restored, says mayor

Following years of neglect, mistreatment and abuse, South Africa’s economic hub now lies in ruins, says the executive mayor of the City of Johannesburg, Dr Mpho Phalatse.

Delivering her first State of the City address in Braamfontein on Thursday (21 April), Phalatse noted that during the 2020/21 financial year, not a single one of the city’s entities received a clean audit.

“A whopping R3 billion was spent irregularly, meaning a violation of policies and/or legal prescripts, during the same period. I know it takes time to clean house, but we must move with haste and precision to get the entities functioning within the ambit of the existing legal framework,” she said.

The mayor stressed that the city “can and will be restored, with each of us doing our part”.

“We need to start by taking responsibility and uniting behind a common mission – to love our city, to nurture, cherish and protect her for generations to come.

“From resisting the urge to litter, break the law, dump illegally, damage infrastructure, steal manhole covers and whole traffic lights or vandalize critical infrastructure, to reporting such incidents when we see them happen, and being faithful in paying our rates and taxes, fines and levies – we each have a huge role to play in preventing the further decay of our city, while rebuilding it at the same time.”

To better the state of Johannesburg, the Joburg Multi-Party Government tabled its immediate programme of action titled ‘The Golden Start” which aims to give residents, businesses, and visitors the following:

  1. A city that gets the basics right;
  2. A safe city;
  3. A caring city;
  4. A business-friendly city;
  5. An inclusive city;
  6. A well-run city;
  7. A smart city

Getting the basics right

MMC Michael Sun led the approval of the city’s Sustainable Energy Strategy in January, to stabilise the electricity supply in Joburg.

The city will also host an energy indaba in May, marking the introduction of partnerships with independent power producers and small-scale energy generators, reducing the city’s reliance on Eskom, said Phalatse.

“The multiparty government will also ensure an uninterrupted supply of clean running water to all residents through capital investment initiatives aimed at addressing water infrastructure backlogs. We aim to invest R2.8 billion within the next three financial years.”

The MMC for Transport Funzela Ngobeni launched a service-delivery programme to bring multiple departments and entities to focus on pothole repair and other road infrastructure maintenance. Over seven weeks in partnership with Dial Direct and Discovery Insure, 7,524 potholes were filled.


Maintaining a well-run city

Phalatse noted that the city is still obliged to deliver services despite a constrained economic environment. She said that the city is looking at alternative funding schemes as the loan markets are averse to lending money to municipalities, and grants from the provincial and national spheres are shrinking.

The MMC for finance plans to embark on raising the necessary funds and attract much-needed investment to fund, among other things, the city’s infrastructure projects, she said.

The mayor pointed to an uptick in payments since January 2022 as residents and businesses responded to the Buya Mthetho campaign, which aims to enhance revenue collection in the city. “We are currently exceeding our target of collecting R4 billion every month.”

The mayor stressed that delinquent ratepayers would have services cut off and be one of the 1,000 disconnections that have taken place daily by the city’s revenue team.

Phalatse said that a re-instated debt rehabilitation programme to assist defaulting customers would offer qualifying customers a 50% debt write-off, with a further write-off on the outstanding debt over three years – if they comply with the conditions of the programme.


Ensuring safety

The mayor said that 1,800 JMPD officers have been deployed into the inner city to restore law and order and stimulate safe economic activity.

The JMPD has partnered with the South African Police Service, the HAWKS, and other law enforcement agencies to operate jointly after a recent spate of attacks on the city’s critical infrastructure, Phalatse said.

The mayor said that newly reinstated Smart Roadblocks have been put in place and collect the excess of R14 million in just nine weeks to continue towards the city’s revenue collection drive.

“There are thousands of CCTV cameras around the city that are not linked; we have therefore started linking different cameras to the Public Safety Integrated Intelligence Operations Centre. This will enable better detection and response to crime,” she said.


Attracting business

The City of Johannesburg, at 15.6%, is the most significant single contributor to South Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP), however, unemployment remains high at in excess of 40%.

The Economic Development Department has drafted an Informal Trade Policy, enabling informal traders to reclaim their trading spaces, said Phalatse. The mayor said that 29,000 city-owned properties are to be audited, and where possible, properties will be released to businesses for better utilisation.

“The city has started a long-term process of scrutinising our policies, by-laws, and compliance and investigation procedures, while also modernising our service offerings and the city’s application and permitting processes.”

Phalatse said that her team, through the Inner-City Office is working to ensure that the Johannesburg CBD becomes a centre of economic and recreational activity. She noted that building control inspectors and single law enforcement units will ensure compliance and shut down non-compliant houses, places of worship, restaurants, nightclubs and taverns.


Upgrading informal settlements

Through the informal settlement programme, the housing department is targeting 10 informal settlements around and in the city in 2022 and is planning to upgrade them to level three, which entails the provision of permanent municipal services such as water sanitation, lighting, and roads stormwater, the mayor said.

“The multi-party government is aggressively issuing title deeds to provide security of tenure to our residents, whilst ensuring that as we handover homes, we run a concurrent process of lodging with the deeds office in a timely fashion.”


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Joburg is in ruins – but it can, and will be restored, says mayor