With hours to go to the 2011 local government elections, the tenure of Amos Masondo as Mayor of Johannesburg is thankfully drawing to a close. A master of denial, amply evidenced by the billing debacle, the beleaguered city boss was telling journalists what a great job he had done with Joburg while petitioning for votes for the ANC. He also said he’d be on hand to assist the new mayor if need be. What will we do without you, Amos? By MANDY DE WAAL.
You cannot tell the story of Amos Masondo’s tenure as Johannesburg mayor without relaying a story of a life on which he has had an impact. Let’s start this story by meeting Bavesh Kana, a much-awarded research scientist. Kana is better known for his work in helping SA fight TB, but he’s also a Jozi resident which means he’s a consumer reliant on services provided by the City of Johannesburg.
Like many frustrated by the city’s billing debacle, Kana’s bureaucratic nightmare started in September 2010 when he received an invoice for R27,000.00. “We hadn’t had a water meter reading for the whole of 2009 and 2010 and I tried to call the metropolitan council and got very little help. I went to the water meter to take the readings myself, and found that it was under the sand and so compacted that it was surrounded by earthworms.”
In January 2011, when Kana hadn’t paid the full amount for his unreasonably large bill, the council cut off his electricity. After going to the city’s satellite offices in Lenasia, he was referred to the Jorrisen Street main office. “I arrived at the offices at 07:00 and there was already a line snaking around the building. It was about 20m long. When the offices opened we filed into a waiting area, and waited.” Kana says a council representative eventually came out to say the council’s staff were at a meeting and couldn’t cope with the huge volume of queries. “He told us the system was a mess and that they didn’t know when it would be resolved or when the queries would be dealt with.”
Six hours later at 13:00 Kana was still standing in the queue, desperate to get the electricity service to his home restored. “There was a woman in front of me who had also been waiting for hours and who started screaming: ‘We have lives. We have businesses to run. This is completely undignified. We cannot relieve ourselves. How can you treat us like this?’ Kana says outbursts happened repeatedly as desperation took its toll.
“There was an elderly lady with Parkinson’s Disease close to me and after many hours it became obvious that she was under severe stress and about to collapse.” Kana says he had to beg people from the council to assist the sick, elderly woman. “They were very verbose and bombastic, and not helpful or sympathetic at all. Their response was this was what it was like every day, and that there was nothing that could be done about the situation.”
Although Kana’s electricity has since been restored, almost nine months after his nightmare started, his billing problems have not yet been resolved. “My wife has called so many times, but is constantly met with rudeness. Nothing has been done. The City of Johannesburg is aware of the billing crisis, yet still they cut of people’s power. Cutting electricity has an effect on people’s livelihoods, their health and wellbeing. This constitutes victimisation and is an actual extortion of the public given there is no constructive process to interact with the council. It is an extortion of money by the very people who are supposed to be giving the citizens of Johannesburg an essential service.”
As Kana continued to battle the City of Johannesburg, like many other Jozi residents still caught up in the billing crisis, Masondo celebrated his last days in office with an end-of-term review in which he said: “Together, we have been on a long journey, it may not be possible to capture every little detail.” The devilish detail that Masondo altogether left out of his outgoing review was, of course, the billing disaster.
He did talk about his political awakening, childhood and the time he spent in SA’s civic movement. More interestingly he quoted life coach and motivational speaker Cherie Carter-Scott: “Remember; there are no mistakes, only lessons…trust your choices, and everything is possible”.
The rest of Masondo’s review speech reads like a badly written self-help book itself, and is studded with statements like: “Without a vision and a plan, there is no destination”; “There is a need to remain accountable (to all)”; “Nothing beats prudent financial management practices”; “Getting the basics right – and doing them correctly!”; “That the bend in the road is not the end of the road”, and “Master the art of doing”.
Fiction aside, the reality of Masondo’s legacy is likely to be the significant damage he did to the ANC’s Jozi campaign for the 2011 municipal elections. As voters readied to go to the polls, the DA revealed that Joburg was in debt in the staggering amount of R2.842 billion, there was news that yet another rodent infestation had struck the city because of the Pikitup strike (http://www.timeslive.co.za/local/article1029079.ece/Rodents-infest-Joburg-CBD) and an oversight committee for the City of Johannesburg revealed that overspending on salaries and under-spending on crucial investments had resulted in a utilities crisis.
The soon to be ex-mayor isn’t sure what he will be tackling next, but he did tell the Mail & Guardian that he would be free to lend the next mayor a hand if needed. “I guess I’ll always be available to supplement the work that’s being carried through. I will do whatever I am called upon to do,” Masondo said. If the ANC takes Johannesburg perhaps it may be useful for Masondo to teach the mayor-elect his stock phrase for dealing with a crisis: “There is no crisis.” DM