Daily Maverick has spent six months tracking governance in Ward 58 and has worked with community activists to draw up this report. It reveals that while the DA has said that the ward will become a “demonstration ward” of how well it can govern, this promise has come to nought.
The party won the ward on a ticket of good governance and its manifesto for 2019 pivots on the same promise, but the experience of the communities of Fordsburg, Mayfair, Hursthill, Fietas and other areas reveals a very different experience.
By deploying a party cadre into the ward, the DA has taken the ward to the point of a local failed state after the ANC misgoverned it for years. The condition of the ward is so fragile that it is a time-bomb of 35 immigrant communities engaged in a low-level war with the local community.
Councillor Alex Christians has allegedly taken sides with a wealthy merchant foreign community and this has caused relationships to calcify in a community that the party won from the ANC, which has traditionally held it.
Ward 58 is an area with a long and proud history of anti-apartheid resistance going back over a century. It is also one of the few nodes of racial, class and multinational integration in the city, but that is now imperilled by the serial failures of the DA in the two years it has held the ward.
Failure at 11 levels
The community, organised into formal and informal groupings, has come up with a list of 11 areas of governance failure due to the failure of enforcement in the ward. The most noticeable governance failure is that Ward 58 is drowning in the dirt – for residents, it is like living in a landfill. Smoking piles of dirt are a common site as residents take to burning. There are dumps of dirt on every street as foreign residents are unable to get council bins or these are stolen.
Infrastructure like stormwater drains have collapsed, and when it rains, large parts of the ward are a lake.
Ward 58 is a pass-through area, linking the North of the city with the South and the East with the West. Job-seekers line its pavements and it is a thoroughfare for informal recyclers who, in the general atmosphere of lawlessness, empty out bags of rubbish onto the pavement. While Christians says the area is cleaned multiple times a day, local businesses and residents deny this.
The community and Ward Committee systematically identified the root causes of the problem and drew up an easy waste-management plan, but Pikitup has not been able to get a handle on the area, making it a health hazard.
Governing in an area of 35 different groups of foreign residents requires changes to the law, but while one of the DA’s election manifesto planks is to deal with illegal immigration, the party has failed to do so in the ward. While immigration is a national competency and falls under the Department of Home Affairs, local government has the levers to ensure that it is better managed.
Numerous residents and business owners told Daily Maverick that highly densified parts of the ward, like Fordsburg and Mayfair, now had a rat plague.
“The rats are as big as cats,” a community member told Christians at a heated meeting in January.
The DA’s Johannesburg leadership is aware of the near state of failure in Ward 58 and it has put in place an emergency plan, but the signs of progress are yet minimal.
Building and zoning laws are wilfully ignored across Ward 58 and the ward committee has done a full audit of the hotspots, which include an entire mall being erected by a Pakistani business person without permission. Both 8th and 9th Avenues in Mayfair have been changed from residential to business areas by the powerful Somalian community. About 50 legal cases for building and zoning violations were pended by the Department of Development Planning in the recent past but these were dropped, allegedly because of the local councillor’s proximity to local strongmen, who are known as the “Guptas of Mayfair” by the local community.
The Somalian Community Board runs a multibillion-rand enterprise from Mayfair as it is the key landing zone, as well as the goods despatch, into the network of thousands of township businesses, run from Ward 58 by the entrepreneurs in the community.
“This is Mogadishu,” is a common refrain from the community when questions are raised about how the big businessmen are ignoring local building and other by-laws.
The high number of foreign communities who have found a largely peaceful home in Ward 58 have also placed pressure on infrastructure for which there is now heated competition.
The accumulation of broken laws and impunity has made inter-group relations brittle across the ward and it is a powder keg. While the ward is progressive and aware of how easily anger can boil over into xenophobia, the cleavages are becoming more pronounced when good governance could have avoided this.
The DA says that it has drawn up a plan for the ward and that visible change should have been clear from January.
The local councillor responds
“It’s not as if it only started now – it was all there prior to 2016 (when the DA won the ward,” says Christians, who does not live in the ward and who is also the council’s Chair of Chairpersons – a demanding and full-time role.
“People have the wrong idea of a ward councillor’s role. The ward councillor is not responsible for service delivery,” he told Daily Maverick.
“A councillor’s main function is the promulgation of by-laws,” he said, reiterating a point he makes repeatedly in meetings. Community members do not agree with this view and entrust their local councillor with leadership and with dealing with local state failure.
Christians says Ward 58 is a huge ward and it straddles two regional governments, which make governance difficult. He said that local ministers, called Members of the Mayoral Committee (MMCs), are primarily responsible for service delivery.
“This ward has always been in crisis,” said Christians. He said that the MMC, Reuben Masango, had been placed in charge of Ward 58 after a previous set of Daily Maverick articles and that he regularly did walkabouts. The community did not have evidence of these.
Christians said the community were “WhatsApp Warriors” who did not heed the DA’s campaign of Are Sebetsang, which is a clean-up drive championed by Mayor Herman Mashaba.
“It’s not just a matter of cleaning up,” said Christians.
He said that he had engaged the Somalian elders to get them to get the local community not to dump on the streets.
“There is a lack of bins, and foreigners are afraid. I am translating our by-laws into Somalian (languages), Oromo, Malawian (languages), Urdu (for the Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities), Arabic, Tamil and Hindi (the latter are Indian languages).
“Are Sebetsang is about the active citizenry. It’s about getting involved: logging calls and educating and participating.”
The community has been active and involved but the local levels of failure require governance and assistance, say community leaders. In addition, Christians is at loggerheads with his ward committee, which is a vital level of community participation. He alleges that ward committee members have been rude to Johannesburg City officials and that they do not have a general community mandate.
The ward committee members say he is an absentee landlord who is not attentive and thrusts the burden of responsibility of service delivery on residents but fails to hold City officials accountable for their poor performance when it is brought to his attention.
They say the councillor has never held regular meetings, that has cancelled many of them and that he colluded to illegally allow a private school to occupy a community sports facility the community had worked with City entities to regain the facility for the public benefit. It is now a dump where prostitution is so rife that a neighbouring park is called Condom Park.
A Group Forensic and Investigation Services report by the City of Johannesburg confirms the ward committee’s concerns that the councillor violated the Code of Conduct of Councillors and is guilty of maladministration, overreaching his mandate and trying to get City officials to give the facility to the private school.
“I cancelled two meetings (in two years) only,” says Christians.
He previously told Daily Maverick that he has held 53 public meetings and only two were cancelled; 11 were organised by the community. Daily Maverick has attended several since this community investigation began, but nothing comes of them.
“This ward has previously received little to no money from the City except for basic service delivery.”
Under the DA, the ward receives a budget again, said Christians.
But the community says it made extensive input into the budget, with no support from the councillor and their input was ignored, and so there is a disjuncture between ward priorities and budgets.
While the 11 governance failures are regarded as priorities by the community, the highest spending will be made on a Multi-Purpose Centre where local activists allege there are the highest numbers of contracts.
Christians has promised that things will improve.
“We are now recognised as part of the Inner City and have also received funds from that pool of money for water infrastructure upgrades, road maintenance and Pikitup contracts for local labourers.” DM
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