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President Cyril Ramaphosa on October 10 2023. Picture: Freddy Mavunda/ Business Day
President Cyril Ramaphosa on October 10 2023. Picture: Freddy Mavunda/ Business Day

Some civil society organisations have formed a crisis committee to help resolve governance problems in Johannesburg and is calling for President Cyril Ramaphosa to intervene to save the city from coalition chaos.

The committee, which includes the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), Action for Accountability, Defend our Democracy and the Johannesburg Inner City Partnership, have penned an open letter to Ramaphosa, lamenting the run-down condition of Johannesburg and deteriorating service delivery.

“The City of Johannesburg is in a deep crisis from which it appears unable, and incapable, of extricating itself. With each passing day, residents, workers and businesses are confronted with potholed streets, leaking water pipes, overflowing sewers, malfunctioning traffic lights and lawlessness.

“Tragically, the city is not safe. Lives are lost in fires and gas explosions tear apart streets. The city has seen a gradual state of decline for some time now. The city is facing massive disinvestment by business, which is aggravating the wicked challenges of unemployment, poverty and homelessness.”

The committee also warned that residents’ anger and frustration could spark violent protests unless something is done immediately.

“The dysfunction in the city is rooted in unstable coalitions and neglected maintenance, compounded by load-shedding, leaving businesses idle for hours, disrupting daily life and forcing residents to rely on ingenuity to navigate the chaos.

“Dysfunctionality has also led to the flight of working families, big business and investments, especially in various inner-city nodes. For many struggling families, safe and decent accommodation in the city is unaffordable,” the committee said.

“Even worse, city residents are battling a water crisis. Some residents in the city have had to go for weeks without water and have had to go to extreme measures to survive. There is no accountability for this state of affairs.”

The committee lamented the city’s R3.8bn unfunded budget for the 2021/22 financial year and criticised unauthorised, irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure amounting to R21bn.

Meanwhile, the group said the city can only collect 75% of its budgeted revenue while paying residents dutifully settle their bills.

“Over the last decade, property rates income has risen from R4bn to R13.5bn and overall revenue has grown from R26.0bn to R62.6bn. If managed well, the city should be thriving. Why then is there a crisis?

“Capital expenditure has only risen from R4.6bn to R6.7bn over the decade, while employment cost for the current 40,000 employees has soared from R10.2bn (2016) to R15.3bn (2021). The staff compliment in 2013 was just over 25,000.”

The civil society organisations said the mismatch was obvious and residents were bearing the cost. Their concern about coalition instability dates back to 2016.

“There is excessive political fragmentation with 18 political parties represented in council. Five coalitions have seen nine mayoral changes since 2016. Due to political opportunism, parties with single seats hold the sway of power in the city and key positions are given to councillors who are simply unable to fulfil their functions.”

The group met civil society, activists, community and business leaders, professionals and academics in July and October to discuss the crisis facing the residents.

Standing for proactive problem-solving and stakeholder engagement in municipal affairs, the committee said it was a legitimate voice of stakeholders. It called for a transitional forum through which government, business and civil society can deliberate on what's needed.

The group called on Ramaphosa to bring to an immediate end by any legislative means possible the chaos in the city, which included placing the municipality under administration, altering the executive model or dissolving the council.

“The residents of the city hold it within their power to force a fresh election to replenish the council and send out a strong message that the interests of the people cannot be undermined by party politics.”

Among proposed solutions is a declaration that the city is in breach of section 152 of the constitution, having failed to ensure the sustainable provision of services and a safe, healthy environment to residents.

In the event administration is not immediately feasible, the organisations proposed an amendment to the mayoral structure in the council be made to reflect and enable proportional representation of parties within the city.

“This may create the ability for a principle-based, co-governance agreement between the largest parties. There must be the creation of citizens' oversight bodies which will serve to improve confidence and trust in city government and lay the basis for more effective future partnerships between the city and its residents.”

They also called for the boards of the city’s entities to be reconstituted, with new board members appointed through a process including public nominations and interviews, and that all board nominations be vetted before appointments are made. This will ensure more effective oversight over the billions of rand with which these boards are entrusted.

“Across the city, residents are rolling up their sleeves to fix what they can. We would like a robust partnership to forge workable solutions to address the crisis.”


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