HERMAN MASHABA: Fixing Joburg’s historic mess: a response to Ferial Haffajee
The euphoria of finally being able to deliver real change to Joburg’s people turned to horror when we saw the huge problems we have to fix, writes Herman Mashaba
Ferial Haffajee is right — but not about everything. This is in relation to her piece titled: Potholes. Traffic lights. City Power. Jozi remains a mess.
The respected newspaper editor correctly points out that as the new multiparty administration, we promised to deliver better governance and improve the lives of our residents.
The sum total of Haffajee’s argument, however, appears to assert that despite this, change is not occurring or isn’t happening fast enough.
I couldn’t agree more. There is much work to be done and I am sympathetic to the frustration felt by our residents. It is a frustration I share in.
However, what Haffajee fails to appreciate is that, while the multiparty government entered into power on a promise of better governance, the historic election outcome of August 2016 cannot be regarded as a silver bullet that would render irrelevant all of the problems that have been created by years of ANC misrule.
The mess left behind by Parks Tau and company is simply so huge that we have had to spend much of our time unravelling it while beating a new path towards good governance and efficiency, as promised.
When a new administration comes into power, residents want to see instant results. When they do not experience immediate benefits, they think nothing is happening; that the wheels of change are not turning.
It is difficult for people to notice that change is, in fact, happening when they are accustomed to their lives having stood still for more than 20 years while they were fed a steady diet of propaganda and lies, courtesy of a well-resourced public-relations campaign of a so-called "world class African City".
I think it is prudent to explain exactly how the wheels of change move so that instead of buying into misconceptions, the people of Johannesburg can have an accurate picture of how the City of Johannesburg has progressed since August 3 2016, when the voters demanded change.
The euphoria of finally being able to deliver real, meaningful change to the people of Johannesburg soon turned to horror when we realised the enormous mess we would have to clean up.
Firstly, Tau and company failed to tell the residents of Johannesburg that the city faced an infrastructure backlog of about R170bn, because of years of years serial neglect and underinvestment.
Our infrastructure had been allowed to deteriorate to the point of collapse. The 100,000 potholes in our city arose from a shocking R11.8bn backlog in our road network.
In 2017, over 3,900km of our roads had fallen into the classification of poor or very poor conditions. This is the equivalent length of road that would take someone from Johannesburg to Nairobi.
This has been made worse by a R56bn backlog in storm water drainage that results in the increasing structural decline of our roads.
With regard to potholes, the JRA would need R8bn to eliminate every single pothole in the City of Johannesburg, but where would the money come from in such a short space of time?
The reality is that the amount it would take to rid Johannesburg of potholes is equal to the city’s entire capital budget for the 2018-19 financial year.
These are the sort of challenges we have to navigate while we seek ensure visible service delivery, Ms Haffajee.
This historic lack of investment in infrastructure is also seen in the flooding in a number of communities, including the whole of Soweto, where no storm water drainage has ever been installed.
Seventy-eight percent of our 900 bridges in the city are classified as being in either poor or very poor condition. R6.5bn is required to address this.
Our electrical network is no better: more than 27% of our bulk transformers now operate beyond their useful lifespan, ranging between 48 and 91 years old.
Our electrical infrastructure backlog sits at a staggering R17bn. This is experienced by our residents suffering 170,000 low-voltage outages in this financial year alone.
Upon stepping into office, we were saddled with debt in the region of R17bn; R5bn of which was due in 2018. It was this particular inheritance that was the most challenging of all, limiting our ability to address the service delivery backlogs that confronted us.
But we are not folding our arms and blaming everything on the ANC; we are making the changes we promised.
We have increased spending on infrastructure maintenance and repairs from 2% to 6%, repaired 181,000 potholes since coming into office, resurfaced 520km of our roads and dug up as well as re-cabled 120 traffic signal intersections.
This has reduced their downtime by 72%.
So, while things may not be moving as quickly as we all would like, there is movement nonetheless.
Change has come to Johannesburg
Over the coming months and years, we will work extremely hard to accelerate this change in order to restore the faith of Johannesburg residents in their city.
We will do this through our new programme of action called Diphetogo. Through Diphetogo, the most critical needs of our residents, communities and businesses will, for the first time, begin to receive long-term investment that will drive transformational change in our city.
The effect will be a city where basic service delivery, redressing the legacy of our painful past and growing our economy to create jobs can be realised.
The Diphetogo programme we have adopted in our planning for the 2018-19 budget calls for a fundamental departure from the past. It means that we have to identify those nonnegotiable priorities that arise from the needs of our residents and invest more than ever before.
In so doing, we will restore Johannesburg to a city of golden opportunities for all.