Giulietta Talevi Companies editor & columnist
Johannesburg. Picture: SUPPLIED
Johannesburg. Picture: SUPPLIED

If you’re up for a session in purgatory — via Zoom — you may want to attend the next City of Joburg council meeting.

Not only will you experience time in a way not marked by any functioning watch on earth, but you’ll get to know the full horror of “Councillor, you’re on mute”, “Councillor, your video’s not on”, and “Madam Speaker, can you see me now?”, on repeat. Over, and over.

It meant that Wednesday’s council session for one of SA’s most economically important cities only really got going at about 2.30pm — 4½ hours after the sitting began.

And it wasn’t as if the subjects to be raised were insignificant, either. The session was to hear performance reports from a raft of city entities: the Joburg Roads Agency, Joburg City Parks, City Power, the Joburg Market and the department of economic development, among others.

So it’s hard not to extrapolate the shambolic roll call from what appears to be a metro in terminal decline.

There is hardly a road in Joburg that is not crumbling, potholed, or choked with weeds. Repairs are haphazard, and then themselves become wrecks of dug-up earth and torn-up tarmac, months, and sometimes years after they were begun.

Traffic lights remain out for days. Electricity outages have crept up to a week, in some suburbs. Bills bear no resemblance to many households’ actual consumption. Billing queries go unanswered.

Rates rise above inflation. The city’s wage bill is untroubled by the jobs carnage happening in the private sector.

The mayor presiding over this slow-moving train wreck is Geoff Makhubo, the ANC’s pick after DA mayor Herman Mashaba quit from the country’s chief opposition party a year ago.

And it is Makhubo’s name, along with that of ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa, which features heavily in a series of dodgy public deals signed with the city by IT group EOH, according to devastating testimony at Wednesday’s Zondo commission.

In a nutshell, Makhubo was the alleged cog in a “suspected tender influencing network that not only assured EOH major contracts but unlocked funding for the ANC”, writes amaBhungane.

You can read its article here, as well as News24’s take here.

amaBhungane, of course, has been covering suspicious public sector deals involving EOH (under its former management) for over three years now. It was its exposé of dealings by former EOH director Jehan Mackay, after all, that prompted sharp and unwelcome public scrutiny of a company that had, for over a decade, grown by an astonishing, and predictable, 30%-40% a year.

Much of that had to do with EOH’s business model, where it used its relentlessly rising share price to snap up more cheaply priced companies, and then fold them into the business. It was clearly an unsustainable practice, however, and it was scuppered by the discovery that not all contracts tendered for were kosher. It saw the departure of founder Asher Bohbot and his right-hand man, John King; the installation of former Absa exec Stephen van Coller to clean things up; and an exhaustive probe by law firm ENSafrica, parts of which were delivered before the commission on Wednesday.

How did it get to this? Well, Moneyweb’s Larry Claasen has been following the EOH debacle and has this piece on how corruption seeped into the organisation.

And as for the residents of Joburg? Well, for now they remain casualties of the corruption and indifference meted out by the ANC government to its citizens.

*Talevi is the FM's Money & Investing editor.

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