South Africa

South Africa

The state of Jozi: Mashaba claims he’s pro-poor

The state of Jozi: Mashaba claims he’s pro-poor

Johannesburg Executive Mayor Herman Mashaba on Wednesday said his government is prioritising the poor and addressing the ANC’s mistakes. The jury, however, is still out on whether his DA-led government can make a difference in the city. By GREG NICOLSON.

Mayor Herman Mashaba dedicated his State of the City Address (SOCA) to Johannesburg’s “forgotten people”. He described a city neglected by the ANC government, featuring gross corruption, and promised to deliver benefits to Johannesburg’s poor, which he claimed were his main priority.

Mashaba’s SOCA address was the first delivered in the city by a leader not from the ANC and the mayor began by referring to the 2016 municipal elections as a sign people want change, a government led by a “diverse group of parties”. The DA leader claimed his government – in coalition with smaller parties and his leadership, relying on support from the EFF – can deliver for the poor, but its promises still have to be proved.

Mashaba outlined the city’s challenges, cautioning against expectations of sudden change. Johannesburg has more than 800,000 people unemployed, economic growth of 1.6%, crumbling infrastructure, a housing crisis, rampant corruption, and “criminals who operate without impunity”, he said. “It’s going to take time to turn around the years of neglect, incorrect priorities, decay and mismanagement in our city. The sheer magnitude of the backlogs we inherited are staggering.”

Mashaba was addressing the council in the brand new city chambers, a project led by the ANC. The irony wasn’t lost on either party. The ANC gloated about leading the development while Mashaba questioned the R360-million spent on it.

The mayor detailed progress on the 10-point plan he introduced soon after coming into government, outlining his administration’s efforts since it was appointed in August. Mashaba said that in the recent adjustment budget, R546-million went towards providing electricity to incomplete housing units, R41-million to electrifying informal settlements and R51-million for the purchase of new vehicles for Metrobus. He noted an increase of R219-million for Johannesburg Social Housing Company to provide affordable accommodation and said Pikitup’s R49-million budget increase had allowed for extra shifts to clean up the city.

Mashaba said a minimum of 60% of capital expenditure will be directed towards traditionally poor areas. “In the coming weeks and months, the forgotten people of our city will begin to see developments and improvements where they have previously seen nothing,” promised the mayor.

He said his administration aims to achieve 5% economic growth, which will significantly boost employment and perhaps reduce inequality. He didn’t detail how it would happen but suggested that reducing red tape for businesses, increasing support to SMME hubs and rejigging the Jozi@Work programme, which he scrapped, could help.

Mashaba also lauded his new administration’s fight against corruption, claiming the internal investigations unit, headed by former Hawks Gauteng leader Shadrack Sibiya, has exposed and prevented R2-billion in corruption. There are 300 cases pending against city officials and up to R10-billion allegedly lost or misused as a result of fraud or corruption.

This figure is utterly sickening. This level of corruption could not have taken place in a vacuum. It is without doubt that many a blind eye was turned in leadership,” said Mashaba. Former mayor and ANC Johannesburg leader Parks Tau watched on as Mashaba spoke in the council chambers his government decided to build.

Tau claimed Mashaba was being disingenuous in his commitment to the poor. “In fact, the benefits to the poor are reducing,” he said. Tau noted the level of free services and the capital expenditure Mashaba’s draft budget planned to spend on poor areas and said, “The budget in fact is giving the poor less.” He accused the mayor’s administration of using double-speak on a number of issues, such as claims of corruption regarding Jozi@Work and spending more on the poor, and said Mashaba’s administration will be exposed when it delivers its budget.

EFF caucus leader Musa Novela raised concern. “What you say when you address and what is on paper can be two different things at times,” he said. “You can come here and grandstand and say all of the nice things but all of the nice things don’t find expression in the budget.”

The EFF elected Mashaba by giving its vote to the DA leader. The ANC won the most votes in the election but Mashaba was elected with support from the opposition after no party won a majority. Novela said the EFF was happy with aspects it had pushed in government. It managed to force the DA to move towards insourcing security guards, as well as extended opening hours at some clinics across Johannesburg. Mashaba also said he will push to use state-owned property to provide affordable housing, a policy the DA and EFF agreed on.

The municipal budget is crucial and Finance MMC Rabelani Dagada on Wednesday denied the ANC’s claims that Johannesburg will spend less on the poor than under previous administrations. He admitted the overall capital expenditure budget will reduce, but said the proportion of that budget spent on the poor will increase. “It’s an increase by far. We are spending more money in poor areas than them. I think it’s important as an MMC for finance to say this; in our endeavours to take care of the poor we’re not going to neglect the middle class, the upper middle class and the rich.”

Dagada said the goal of 5% growth in the city’s economy would be achieved through the city’s large-scale recruitment of metro police, which will help clean the inner city, and its pro-business policies. Details on spending on the poor will be revealed when he tables his budget later this month, he said.

Mashaba has faced criticism for his comments linking foreigners to committing crimes in the city. His administration’s budget will be the first true test as to whether he is pro-poor, as he claims, or he continues to confuse cleaning up the city for business interests with providing for Joburg’s “forgotten”. DM

Photo: Johannesburg Executive Mayor Herman Mashaba (Greg Nicolson)


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