Joburg’s lost world class opportunity

Jack Bloom MPL

DA Gauteng Caucus Leader

I was elected to the Johannesburg City Council in August 1991.

The city was then run by a Democratic Party-led coalition that included the National Party and independent councillors.

It was not the best-run city in the world, but services were generally delivered. Traffic cops did their job and traffic lights worked.

When the DP took over some hard decisions were made to improve efficiency.

The council was restructured in line with the strategic vision of becoming a world class city.

Three immensely talented people were appointed to head the new functions of arts and culture, sports, and attracting international business.

It was an exciting time which including the transition to the post-apartheid era.

Township areas like Alexander and Soweto needed to be incorporated, as well as towns like Sandton and Randburg.

The DP wanted a two-tier metropolitan structure, rather than a mega-city that would lose touch with residents’ concerns in specific areas.

But the ANC insisted on centralisation for a vast city that included Orange Farm in the south and Midrand in the north.

Integrating this would always be difficult, but the ANC’s incompetent political appointments made it immeasurably worse.

Rampant corruption and fishy tenders also hit basic service delivery.

Billing is still a mess that frustrates thousands of home-owners and businesses.

In the first three months of this year the city lost R1.07 billion worth of electricity because of a poor network and illegal connections.

This was nearly a third of all electricity purchased from suppliers.

Water leaks are also high, running at 37% and about R800 million a year in lost revenue.

Total uncollected debt is more than R17 billion.

The bus service is unreliable and traffic snarl-ups at broken robots are common.

Vast swathes of the city recently had power failures for days because of a strike by City Power workers.

Most residents laugh when they hear radio ads punting Johannesburg as a “world class African city”.

The ANC launched the Joburg 2030 Vision in 2002. Former ANC Mayoral Committee Member Lindsay Bremner observed that this “updated a very similar plan hatched in the early 1990s by the DP-led Johannesburg City Council to claim a place for Johannesburg in the A-team of cities world-wide.”

She said that the high-powered team appointed by the DP was “surprisingly successful” and “seemed well on its way to realising its dream”.

But it was derailed in 1995 when the ANC councillors slashed the budget for strategic projects and fired or side-lined those who had been running them.

This was a tragic lost opportunity from which the city has yet to recover.

We are lucky that Johannesburg’s incompetent administration is mitigated by the inherent dynamism of its residents.

We will only become world class when voters boot out politicians who can’t even get traffic lights to work.