Foremost among residents’ claims at this week’s hearings into conditions in Alexandra were the issues of land invasions and the mushrooming of illegal structures. It was alleged that the city’s Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) and other departments were failing to combat illegal invasions and demolish illegal structures.
But city Manager, Ndivhoniswani Lukhwareni, told the hearing that there was much the city was doing.
“It’s not like Alexandra is a neglected area,” Lukhwareni said while admitting that a lot more could have been done.
Lukhwareni told the hearing that the bringing down of illegal structures was a huge responsibility which required among other things that the city consult inhabitants of affected areas and that over and above that, the city did not have the capacity to efficiently manage illegal structures.
“We have no resources to manage demolitions at full capacity,” said Lukhwareni.
Senior Legal Advisor at the SAHRC, Alexandra Fitzgerald, asked Lukhwareni what interventions the city had undertaken to address the issue of illegal structures. She also wanted to know at what point the city intervened – before an illegal structure was built, or after inhabitants had moved in?
“It’s not practical that we camp in these areas, but interventions are happening,” Lukhwareni said. He said the same team covered the whole area of Alexandra which further compromised its efficiency.
The city also faced a barrage of questions regarding the issue of uncollected waste which is a major eyesore and health hazard in Alexandra. The reply was that waste is collected seven days a week. When probed further, Lukhwareni said this was not a full seven-day cycle for each area, but that they serviced different places on different days.
But, Lukhwareni said, it was difficult to manage the waste backlog if they missed a single day. “We have a dilemma regarding waste collection and our dilemma is that we cannot manage the waste backlog if we miss a day of waste collection.”
The SAHRC’s Fitzgerald wanted to know how waste was collected in areas that were inaccessible to trucks. Housing Director Thabo Maisela said mini-excavators were used to access such areas. Fitzgerald also wanted to know how refuse bags were delivered to such places, Maisela said they established pick-up points where those whose homes cannot be accessed can collect their bags.
“Does every area of Alexandra receive waste removal services?” Fitzgerald asked. “Yes,” replied Lizzie Makoro, the City of Johannesburg’s Region E Director. She said all wards in Alexandra were serviced by the contracted company, Pikitup.
Makoro said no part of Alexandra fell outside the demarcation area, which disproved suggestions that not every area received waste collection services in the township – an assertion that would appear to be contradicted by the very visible trash that accumulates in Alexandra.
Fitzgerald wanted to know how the city was managing its sewerage services in Alexandra. The city said because some houses were built on fire hydrants, it was difficult to attend to sewage problems at the women’s hostel.
“How many cases of sewage blockages in Sandton have been left unattended for a year?” Human Rights Commission Senior Legal Officer, Matthew du Plessis asked. Johannesburg Water’s Ntshavheni Mukwevho said he could not recall any. But 5,000 sewage blockages were reported annually in Alexandra.
The city said an assessment was currently underway which would provide solutions for addressing sewerage problems at the Helen Joseph women’s hostel and the report was due today, 15 May 2019.
“Why is it that five years later we are still waiting for an assessment report on this one place which is the Alexandra women’s hostel?” Du Plessis asked.
“I think its a travesty of justice that it has taken so long to fix the problems at the hostel,” admitted Housing Director Maisela. He said the long-term plan was to restructure the hostels into family units, but the city had serious budgetary limitations, among other reasons because the hostel’s cash collections did not amount to much. “We have serious limitations in terms of the maintenance budget,” Maisela said.
The city had made a promise to quantify and make available budgets for the advancement of development of the Alexandra women’s hostel, but Maisela could not give a clear answer when asked about the existence at the hostel of a hostel policy.
The City of Johannesburg officials were also grilled on the controversy surrounding the R1.3-billion for the 2001 Alexandra Renewal Project (ARP), which seemingly never materialised. The ARP became a subject of much debate during the recent strike in Alexandra – as tempers flared all around the township, many Alexandra residents felt the money could have been used for development in the area.
The R1.3-billion has since become the subject of three investigations – by Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba, Premier David Makhura and an Interministerial Task Team.
City officials denied that there was any real money transfer regarding the ARP funds, and told the enquiry that they never received the money. They said they were still busy quantifying what was done with what money, and what wasn’t done that was supposed to have been done.
“There was never a real transfer of money. It was the value attached to the housing plan but there was no transfer of money to the City of Johannesburg,” said Maisela.
Vusumuzi Dlamini, Senior Legal Officer in the office of the Public Protector, was not satisfied. He said that each time he asked questions seeking to trace the money trail, city officials deflected his attempts.
Officials were also grilled on hostel security issues and who was responsible for cleaning the hostel. The enquiry heard that cleaners at the hostel were the hostel’s own residents in the employ of service providers working with the city.
The panellists also wanted to know the scope of the structural assessment. The city said the assessment would focus on the hostel structures and water and sanitation issues.
While the city painted a beautiful picture of their achievements in Alexandra, residents say their troubles were piling up. Violet Mfobo, 66, said she was ashamed to call the Helen Joseph Hostel by name because it was an insult to the Struggle icon. She said it was annoying that shabby dwellings like shacks and ruined hostels were called after South Africa’s Struggle heroes and heroines. Mfobo has lived at the women’s hostel all her life and said things were “much better” during apartheid.
“The hostel was clean. We also had recreational facilities, it felt at home. Nowadays we run out of water and electricity for long periods of time,” Mfobo said.
“Come and you will see we stay in a heap of trash. We are neglected.” DM