There is a lie at the heart of our Johannesburg. We all know it well – Johannesburg is a “World Class African City.” One wishes the slogan was true. But as many residents know, the city, particularly when I took office in 2016, was more akin to a world-class slum. The inner-city, formerly the heartbeat Johannesburg, was mired in crime and grim – a hellscape for many residents.
It is not an exaggeration to say that in 2016, the city spiralled into deep decline despite the ANC’s spin-doctoring, costing over R300 million. At the time, Johannesburg faced an infrastructure backlog estimated at R170 billion and a housing backlog of over 300 000 units.
In that year of 2016, the people of Johannesburg decided they wanted change; a chance to be free of the ANC’s lies and corruption, and so, following the Local Government Elections, I led a multi-party coalition government that was dead set on delivering change to the City. A key component in delivering this fundamental change towards resident-centric quality basic services, or Diphetogo as we termed it, was reviving, revitalising, and restoring the Johannesburg inner-city.
To do this, the multi-party coalition government launched the Inner-City Revitalisation programme during my term as Mayor, handing over abandoned, derelict, and hijacked buildings to the private sector for mixed-use development, including affordable accommodation.
The City’s Council approved resolutions to the handover of 154 properties for the development, unlocking up to R32 billion in investment, with the potential to create 21 000 jobs and 14 000 affordable accommodation units.
Never had this been done and I dare say, national government sought to emulate the project given its value proposition and potential for jobs.
This said, the question is what became of the Council’s resolution and the Inner-City Revitalisation programme? The resolution is a binding commitment by Council to secure the development of the city and meet the needs of residents. Yet, since the ANC, Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), the United Democratic Movement (UDM), Cope, the African Independent Congress (AIC), and Al Jama-ah coalition took over the City, the desperately needed socio-economic development project seems to have been buried under the rug.
Admittedly, the City has been visited by changes in political leadership with the unfortunate passing of Mayors Makhubo and Matongo, respectively. Yet, even during their tenure, residents, the business sector and civil society heard very little on the progress being made on the Inner-City Revitalisation programme. Given this, I would implore the Acting City Manager, Mr Floyd Brink, to exercise leadership and take Joburg’s residents into confidence by detailing what has become of the inner-city revitalisation programme.
This inner-city revitalisation programme is of deep public interest. It bears consequences not only for the city’s residents but South Africans as a whole – Johannesburg remains the cornerstone of our economy, and its fate affects all corners of the country. In an economy with an unemployment rate of 44, 4% (expanded definition), most of which are youth, the inner-city revitalisation programme represents an opportunity to create shared value for business and government in a manner that generates jobs, drives new investments from the private sector, has the potential to make a meaningful impact on the housing backlog, and create a more inclusive city.
The benefits of the programme were critical to bring the city from the brink of collapse, and I daresay, are even more important now in driving an economic recovery post the impact of COVID-19. It has always been my view that by creating the right incentives for the private sector to be involved in the development of the city, we can ensure that both economic and social issues are addressed through a “shared value” model as exemplified by the inner-city revitalisation programme.
Equally, through the programme, young people were set to be some of the largest benefactors not only from a jobs perspective, but also in the number of artisan training opportunities which would have been generated. Training young people was a core component of the initiative, turning the inner-city into a productive construction site whilst simultaneously creating skills development opportunities in a needed economic sector.
The benefits which could have been reaped from the programme are clear. Though the programme was certainly not the silver bullet to every challenge faced by the city, it represented a significant start towards immediately rescuing Johannesburg’s inner city from further decline. This makes the programme’s seeming disappearance more concerning. In our present economic environment, where joblessness and hopelessness are so high, we ought to seize every available opportunity to create jobs, grow the economy and address social issues.
The residents of Johannesburg deserve to be given a report on the status of this programme. Should the City refuse to do the right thing, we will file a Promotion to Access to Information Act (PAIA) application to force the city into transparency – ultimately, I hope there will be little need for this. I certainly will demand that residents be briefed of its fate upon returning to the City of Joburg Council.
Of course, the value and potential of the inner-city revitalisation is not isolated to just Johannesburg, but can be replicated in Tshwane, Ekurhuleni and eThekwini – all cities where, with residents’ help, ActionSA will be set to govern and deliver real positive change to residents.
As we approach the coming elections, ActionSA stands ready to serve our residents. We have assembled a team of South Africans committed to public service and not service of political parties. These committed people have the skills, experience, and knowledge to achieve our vision for municipalities that work for all their residents. ActionSA stands above other parties because we have a track record of success in local government. In a party that is just a year old, we have former Mayors, MMCs, Chiefs of Staff, a Chief of Metro Police, a CEO of SALGA, Chairpersons of Portfolio Committees, and the list goes on and on.
It is this experience which we will bring to all the cities where we are contesting and the promise of change we embody.