Inner City Revitalisation: A Dream Stalled

Today ActionSA visited various Inner-City buildings that formed part of the widely celebrated Inner City Revitalisation Plan I launched during my time as Mayor of Johannesburg. This plan saw 154 derelict and abandoned properties handed over to the private sector, under favourable incentives, for mixed-use development including low-cost affordable accommodation.

This was calculated to generate R32 billion in investment, create 21,000 jobs and deliver 14,500 accommodation units for low-income families and students.

ActionSA has received numerous reports that the project has all but stalled and that, despite construction ready to start in November 2019 at some sites, construction has not started anywhere.

Today I visited two facilities in the Inner City. One was a site provided for a state-of-the-art student accommodation facility that was borne out of an MoU with WITS University, the University of Johannesburg and UNISA.

It is widely recognised that students suffer from expensive and inadequate accommodation with horror stories regularly emerging of students sleeping in libraries. This facility was meant to initiate a large-scale, first of its kind intervention in partnership with the universities to address this problem. Despite the suffering of our students continuing, this facility we visited today in Vrededorp remains abandoned with no sign of construction.

The second facility was ear-marked for low-cost affordable accommodation. The multi-party coalition I led recognised the problem of housing projects far away from job opportunities and the inner city offered the solution to this problem. It had the ability to take buildings that were eye-sores and give them to private developers on the basis of how cheap the rentals could be, how many jobs would be created and how many units made available.

Sites like this one represented the ability to make massive inroads into housing backlogs, generate economic activity in the construction sector and address spatial inequality in our City. This site, like the student accommodation facility, has not progressed from a sod turning that I attended as Mayor in October 2019.

It is not possible to determine whether the stalling of these projects is a function of sabotaging a project that wasn’t of the ANC’s making or whether it is sheer mismanagement by the City of Johannesburg. The Inner-City Revitalisation Plan was universally celebrated irrespective of one’s background or place on the political spectrum. It was a win for those in need of housing opportunities, it was a win for the construction sector, and it was a win for the residents of Johannesburg who want their inner city to be a modern and thriving community.

Whatever the reason that these projects have stalled for 18 months, it is not acceptable. These projects were awarded, spades were in the ground in November 2019, and the City just had to fulfil its obligations to ensure the project succeeded.

Instead, people who should be getting ready to move into truly world-class accommodation continue to live in shacks or in over-crowded buildings under terrible conditions. People who feel the pinch of unemployment do not benefit from the construction sector jobs and Johannesburg residents continue to see parts of the inner city as going backwards.

The City will not succeed under the ANC and Mayor Geoff Makhubo. An ActionSA government would immediately unlock the blockages to the Inner-City Revitalisation Plan to address the spatial inequality in the City, and kick-start economic growth. Through projects such as this one, we can get Johannesburg working again.