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Fury as Joburg’s Mayor Mashaba snubs Alex residents,...

South Africa

ALEXANDRA SHUTDOWN

Fury as Joburg’s Mayor Mashaba snubs Alex residents, again

Alexandra resident Sophie Dimakatso Zwane during a protest against the building of illegal structures in Alexandra. Photo: Bheki Simelane

Incensed residents of Johannesburg’s Alexandra township marched to Sandton on Wednesday, 19 June 2019, demanding to see Mayor of Johannesburg Herman Mashaba. After Mashaba didn’t appear, residents instead went to the police to open a case against him.

We don’t have a mayor in Alexandra, he said so himself. We shouldered our problems all the way from Alexandra but the God of the City of Johannesburg won’t see us,” bellowed incensed Alexandra Shutdown Movement leader, Sandile Mavundla.

The Alexandra protests saw residents marching to the city of Johannesburg’s regional offices in Sandton. Almost an hour-and-a-half later, residents were still waiting outside the offices hoping that an address by Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba would soothe their housing wounds.

The current protests broke out after residents’ houses, built on illegally occupied land, were demolished. Prior to the demolitions, residents had grappled with the mushrooming of illegal structures, crime and a lack of basic services such as waste collection.

Mashaba had promised residents he would rebuild their demolished houses, but this was widely criticised because it would amount to a violation of the court order which authorised the demolitions in the first place.

Alexandra residents enter Sandton on Wednesday on their way to the city region offices to deliver a memorandum of demands. Photo: Bheki Simelane

Mashaba was also accused of being disingenuous, considering that he is the mayor, and any demolition authorisation could only have come from his office.

If the mayor still refuses to see us we will also be building illegally right here at the City’s regional offices. Let them evict us from here,” said 57-year-old Jessica Kgaladi from 9th Avenue in Alexandra.

Kgaladi said after the mayor’s latest snub, she felt helpless. She told Daily Maverick she had lived in a shack all her life, and while mayors and officials changed, living conditions in Alexandra remained the same.

Doesn’t that tell you that we are just being played here?” she asked.

I’m a born fighter. I was born fighting for this country but I’m still without a toilet or a tap. Sies! Money is pumped into Alex every time. Where is the money, where is the Alexandra Renewal Project money?” asked Kgaladi.

SAPS officers keep guard at the gates to the city region offices on Wednesday during a protest by Alexandra residents against the building of illegal structures and provision of resources in the area. Photo: Bheki Simelane

The City of Johannesburg told Daily Maverick that while the investigation into the manner in which the demolitions were carried out continued, it would be premature to reveal the outcome of the investigation into the whereabouts of the Alexandra Renewal Project money.

Residents’ frustrations were written all over their faces. They spilled on to the streets of Sandton as they refused to follow the route prescribed by police.

We shouldn’t let them get near the Johannesburg Stock Exchange,” one senior police officer was overhead saying.

An Alexandra resident at the city of Johannesburg’s city region office in Sandton. Residents of Alexandra protested the building of illegal structures. Photo: Bheki Simelane

Police had their hands full controlling the crowd of about 400 boisterous residents. A somewhat symbolic incident happened as residents waited at the city offices: An electrical substation overlooking the offices burst into flames and the power failed — almost immediately a generator at the offices kicked in.

This did not go down well with many residents who were still waiting for Mashaba:

They have the generator as backup because they cannot operate without it, yet we have to wait for days when our electricity switches off. This is a sign of the inequality that we are fighting here,” Alexandra Shutdown Movement leader Mavundla said.

We still have our parents’ dompasse. Who better deserves services more than us, as this shows that we have been staying in Alexandra for a long time,” Sophie Dimakatso Zwane said.

An angry Zwane had also brought documents which proved she had been born in Alexandra and her applications for an RDP house. Zwane said others were house beneficiaries and not Alexandra’s own people.

The City said engagements with residents on the rebuilding process were ongoing. It said the engagements also related to the rebuilding process and the long-term relocation of affected residents.

Alexandra Shutdown Committee (ASC) leader Sandile Mavundla at the city region offices in Sandton on Wednesday during protests against the building of illegal structures. Photo: Bheki Simelane

The process of rebuilding will look at creating suitable temporary structures with the view of relocating those affected in the long term through a structured development plan,” said acting City spokesperson Olebogeng Molatlhwa.

Mother of three Linah Mokasi, 39, who lives at Alexandra 18 Number 5, said she never participated in protests, but saw it as necessary to add her voice because life at her home was unbearable. She shares her one-room shack with her sons who are too old to still be staying with her in a single room.

I want a house. I still stay with my sons in a shack because our houses here in Alexandra are sold to foreigners. When it rains we cannot sleep, we have to stand with buckets to collect the water,” said Mokasi.

Benjamin Ndlovu, 53, who stays in Tsutsumani in Alexandra, said: “My biggest worry for Alexandra is lawlessness. I am worried about the future, the future of all our children. By-laws are violated with impunity in Alexandra and the reason for such violation is Mashaba and his EFF buddies. They are failing us and I’m not sure why this is being allowed to go on.”

It soon became clear that Mashaba would not arrive when Mavundla announced that the City had sent two officials from the Speaker’s office. The committee told residents they had the option of handing over the memorandum and proceeding to open a case against Mashaba.

Residents were divided. An elderly woman said: “I don’t agree, let’s hand over the memorandum. It’s worth it.” But the memorandum was not handed over and residents headed for the Alexandra police station to open a case against the Johannesburg mayor.

Mavundla said the case they would open against Mashaba related to his alleged violation of a court order which had authorised the demolitions by his subsequent stated intention of rebuilding the demolished homes. Other residents were angry. They said they knew from day one Mashaba was grandstanding and never intended to rebuild their houses.

Responding to Daily Maverick’s question on why Mashaba would make a promise to residents which could be viewed as a violation of the law, the City said the mayor appreciated this, but was equally concerned about the dignity of the people who had been left homeless.

The key issue for the mayor is ensuring the respect of residents’ human rights and human dignity are retained. It is also for this reason that the mayor took issue with the manner in which the evictions were carried out,” said Molatlhwa.

Mavundla said the case had been opened because there had been a standing court order authorising the evictions. “I have already stated the community’s position on the mayor’s promise to rebuild the houses. He wants to build on illegally occupied land — he is a vandal himself. We will not call off the shutdown.”

Asked what the Alexandra Shutdown Movement hoped to achieve by opening the case, Mavundla said: “we are preventing the City from setting a wrong precedent for lawlessness.” DM

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