What happens in Joburg now? No mayor can stop our city from breakdown
The ANC’s Dada Morero was sworn in as the city’s sixth mayor in six years — but can he stop Johannesburg from failing? With all love for the city I was born in, grew up in and live in, I don’t think so. It will be up to the residents of Joburg to stop the freefall.
Johannesburg is so far gone, it’s almost feral and certainly beyond the party politics that govern our lives. Take this example. The city’s potholes are now so numerous that the 12,390-kilometre road network is returning to gravel because it needs resurfacing, not patching. The other day, coming home along Beyers Naudé, I noticed that the surface on that major arterial is now lifting. Because of a fight between Joburg Water and the Johannesburg Roads Agency, you have to dodge ‘dongas’ or huge dugouts on many roads. The city’s water network is failing so its engineers patch by digging up and fixing leaks wherever they occur.
Water outages are now as common as power outages in Johannesburg. As the outgoing MMC for Infrastructure Michael Sun told Daily Maverick, Johannesburg often feels like it is two stages higher than Eskom’s scheduled blackouts because the city grid is collapsing faster than the national one. This week, a woman in Brixton messaged to ask why the fact that areas surrounding the Hursthill reservoir have been without water for weeks was not headline news.
I didn’t have the heart to say it’s because this is the new normal. As I’ve written in Daily Maverick, my mom’s place in Mayfair is now so often without water that the mosque across the road has dug a borehole and often we get water from that. When we go out, it’s completely normal to see people carrying water from this and other boreholes to their homes. Because scheduled power cuts are now ongoing for longer than ever, the city’s reservoirs can’t cope. There are water restrictions across Johannesburg imposed by Rand Water, the bulk supplier, and Joburg Water, the city supplier. My colleague Mark Heywood sent me this internal message to his staff from a doctor at Helen Joseph Hospital which falls within the reservoir supply basin: “Good morning all, water still remains an issue today so can I kindly request that every staff member bring in water bottles (any quantity) to help with the toilets and washing hands, etc. Thank-you 🙏”
The graveyards will make you cry. The dead host the living as homelessness multiplies daily. You can see it at the traffic lights where sometimes young men swap turf to catch a rand or two from motorists.
Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations
Sun told of a good plan to reduce rolling blackouts by two stages in Johannesburg. But any plans that executive mayor Mpho Phalatse and her team had will now bite the dust as Morero takes over the chains.
If experience is a guide, the first thing that will happen is cadre deployment into the big positions where power lies and the ousting of staff who came with the multi-party coalition government elected last November after the local government poll. This is likely to go on until the new year and you can foresee many court cases because Phalatse swore in new directors for all the entities last year.
Read more in Daily Maverick: “A dramatic Friday as City of Joburg elects Dada Morero as mayor after Mpho Phalatse gets the chop”
Morero told Daily Maverick that his first agenda will include road resurfacing, dealing with the city’s growing deficit and also dealing with Soweto’s electricity crisis. The ANC wants to move Soweto from out under Eskom’s control and to place it under City Power.
City Power is also cracking up — this week, a ward councillor near where I live, tweeted that communities needed to form commandos to protect substations being destroyed daily as organised cable syndicates use the rolling blackout schedules to roll up kilometres of network every night.
Johannesburg is ‘governed’ through a set of entities like Joburg Water, City Power, the JRA and a host of others including the Johannesburg Property Company. This was an innovation by the ANC to streamline all the apartheid metropoles into a single metron government. It has become a feeding scheme where successive ANC governments (and lately coalition partners of the DA, IFP and Patriotic Alliance) have deployed cadres who in turn give contracts to pals. That’s the basic reason for Johannesburg’s failure. At the JRA, for example, good officials will tell you how the IFP’s Albert Mokoena commandeered contracts through handwritten instruction notes to staff. We reported on his appointment here.
It’s cross-party eating. The city spends about 40% of its R77-billion budget on staff and on contractors and after payments into the entities there is little place for service.
Johannesburg is going the way of any number of the municipalities and metros like Nelson Mandela Bay in Gqeberha, which is also on its last legs if you read my colleague Estelle Ellis’s reports. No mayor is going to change that but the six million people who call it home are going to have to.
This collapsing Johannesburg is not the city of Netflix’s Young Famous and African. There is a privatised and bling Johannesburg the world still believes the city to be. On the ground, it’s a whole different kettle of coalition nightmare. DM