South Africa

Governing Joburg

Condom Park, and how the DA has failed in Mayfair

Condom Park, and how the DA has failed in Mayfair
City of Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba during an interview related to service delivery on May 03, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / City Press /Tebogo Letsie)

Governing in immigrant-rich communities doesn’t need xenophobia, Mayor Herman Mashaba. It just needs you to govern and to do so well.

Given the opportunity to govern one of the most multi-national municipalities in the country well, the DA has failed. Instead, the party’s mayor Herman Mashaba tilted into full-blown xenophobia when he made a citizens arrest of a hawker selling freshly slaughtered cows last week.

The mayor linked the cows to the importation of Ebola and he is now in hot water with the Human Rights Commission, among others for a policy position that is morphing from a campaign for regulated migration into one that is anti-foreigner.

My experience is that the party’s failure to govern well in communities of high migration means that it is stoking xenophobia. Is this happening elsewhere too and does it make cynical the party’s election campaign stance against foreigners?

I live in an area where people from at least 35 different nationalities reside without the painful violence against foreigners that too often makes headlines, but the failure to govern in often simple ways is heightening tension. I wonder if this is happening elsewhere too?

Because of family commitments, I live in two wards in Johannesburg – 58 and 117. The difference between the two is like heaven and hell, yet they are both DA-governed. Ward 58 has citizens of 35 countries living in it, according to DA councillor Alex Christians. It is a near-perfect example of the failure of local government in every metric the DA promised the community it would improve.

Ward 117 includes Parkhurst, my other home, and it is a near perfect example of excellent local government by the DA, perhaps because it is near homogenous in terms of class, race and nationality.

Comparing the two, there are cleavages of class, race and nationality that cast a grim light on the party’s claims of being a home for all if you take the definition of all to include people of different classes and nationalities that are often not easy to govern. My early studies suggest that while the DA is excellent at governing in its old constituencies, it is failing in new ones.

I am studying why this is and last week went for a walk in a Mayfair park (part of Ward 58) with residents in the area. On a Sunday morning, the park was littered with shiny condom wrappers in blue, purple, green, red and more. From a distance, they looked like flowers, said one of the residents.

Condoms strewn on the ground in ‘Condom Park’. Photo: Ferial Haffajee

Up close, they were evidence of a good night’s business. A Moulana (a learned Muslim leader) walked with us and said he had minutes before stopped a prostitute and her client from transacting in broad daylight nearby. The parks abut a madressah (a Muslim school) and a convent. I was shocked, but he wasn’t as the area is now a Wild West where anything goes.

A woman in the park said she was not a prostitute, but that her friends are. Asked who their clients are, she said “Indians. Somalis. Africans. Everybody.” It’s not the only sector where things are booming.

Because there is no by-law enforcement by the governing DA council, ambitious new residents from Pakistan and Somalia are putting up buildings faster than Amazon builds cloud services, often without plans or permissions necessary even in the inner-city. It is the hub of the second wave of Malawian immigrants who are the the sewing force behind a thriving cut, make and trim sector.

The Somalian retail maestros have opened shops across South Africa and they start out in Mayfair, which is the hub of the spokes they have built into almost every township in the country where spaza shops are now almost all foreign-owned.

The trucks that line up to take goods into the rest of South Africa are parked in areas which used to be schools, parks or residential streets when the area was deemed poor white and when anti-Group Areas activism opened it up.

Just recently, City Parks gave the Somali Community Board approval to close off the park to ensure that it is safe. [They] will go it on their own and raise the funds and ensure the park is secured and kept clean and safe,” Mashaba’s office told the Daily Maverick.

But, if the pattern of what has happened under the DA is a guide, then this is not a good idea. Public spaces are being rented to private commercial interests, which creates tension with the local community. I see this evident across Ward 58 where schools, parks and other areas that could give breathing or community space to a crowded area if there was clever urban management in place, are instead rented out for commercial purposes on often dubious contracts with the Johannesburg Property Company.

The local community had put in a proposal to the Johannesburg Development Agency to run the park, an old and unused bowling club and a school as part of a community-run education precinct. The Agency, one of the best urban development agencies in the country, had plans to fund the upgrade. Instead, under the DA councillor, it was rented out, on a commercial basis, to a school called the Task Academy which promised community access and upkeep of the surrounding area.

That has not happened and so Condom Park grows in notoriety.

Slumlords, South Africans largely, have clicked that you can earn much more if you let space per room rather than per house to foreigners who I have seen pack in 10 people to a room, each on a simple mattress that can be folded in the day. In neighbouring Auckland Park, for example, the council made sustained interventions to stop slumlords and to ensure that all business establishments had licences. This does not happen in Ward 58, despite multiple deputations and petitions to the local council.

Fordsburg, Mayfair and the other parts that make up Ward 58 are a vibrant and cosmopolitan area and for the longest time, I have thought it to be an example of social cohesion in action because it is multi-racial, multi-class and multi-national in its orientation.

But, it does require governance. And that can mean relatively simple governance changes and by-law enforcement to ensure that good relations do not become calcified and callous as they risk becoming now.

Ward 58 now resembles a dumpsite, where it used to be one of the many exciting nodes of the Johannesburg melting pot. Now it is always filled with huge piles of rubbish that make it unhealthy for residents. In an immigrant-rich community, you have to alter how PikitUp (the local garbage collection agency) works. Immigrants often do not have IDs and so cannot get municipal accounts and wheelie bins.

A community-led media investigation in the governance of Ward 58 in the light of the DA’s election manifesto for 2019. We seek to capture the key areas of concern using photography as the key medium. These areas of concern include illegal building, dumping, the degradation of heritage, slum-lording, the failure of bylaw enforcement and planning.The areas to be covered include Mayfair, Fordsburg, Fietas and Brixton.
PHOTO/MUJAHID SAFODIEN 11 November 2018 Mayfair Johannesburg

While DA grandees tell me that this requires community education or the monthly clean-up campaigns that Mashaba undertakes, it’s not as simple as that. Systems and policies need shifting because the notion of community needs to be expanded.

The community has been begging for the area to be properly governed for most of the decade as the toll of migration and urbanisation is felt in low-income areas like this one. In an area which has historically been ANC, the governing party was booted out in 2016 on the DA’s promise that where it governs, it governs well.

Over two years later, that promise is a dream deferred in Mayfair, Fordsburg and the rest of Ward 58.

Last year, DA leaders paid a visit to this very park as they walked about the area where a historically active community had been campaigning for years about failures first by the ANC government and later by the DA.

In Ramadaan earlier in 2018, Mashaba and DA leader Mmusi Maimane dined with the Somali Community Board and with the Task Academy officials in what local community leaders say is an example of how the DA has been captured by local commercial interests at the expense of the local community.

On every visit, big promises have been made to make this a demonstration ward to show the DA can govern well in the inner-city.

But more than a year after the DA tramped through Condom Park and more than two years after the party swept to victory in this most cosmopolitan of communities, it has failed to deliver on its promise of good governance. It is stoking xenophobia instead of governing migration as its manifesto for 2019 promises it will. DM

Herman Mashaba’s response is published as a separate article. You can read his response here.



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