South Africa


What happens in Joburg now? No mayor can stop our city from breakdown

What happens in Joburg now? No mayor can stop our city from breakdown
Damaged roads on 2 February, 2021 in Cosmo City, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images/Luba Lesolle)

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. 

Water leaks in Johannesburg

Motorists drive past leaking water along Mphuti Street on July 8, 2021 in Soweto, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images/Fani Mahuntsi)

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.  

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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.  

A generator powering a spaza shop in Dube Soweto

A generator powering a spaza shop in Dube Soweto, most parts of the township are affected by Stage 6 rolling blackouts. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

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 Firefighters tackle a blaze that flared up underground in the Ferreirasdorp area of the CBD, 23 March 2022. The fire left the whole area without electricity. (Photo: Neil McCartney/The Citizen)

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 streets

Potholes and sinkholes on city roads on January 26, 2022 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images/Luba Lesolle)

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


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • brooks spector says:


  • Dennis Bailey says:

    Nothing on Ace’s Freestate! And in KZN we fill the potholes with the remains of faction fights. No really, Ferial, you Gauties have it good. And don’t get me started on the EC. Jeeze, do that lot know how to lead. Malema doesn’t need to drive anyone into the sea – they’re swimming to the safety of Australia in droves.

  • Paddy Ross says:

    What a sad article. The ANC has proved to be unwilling/unable to deal with the decline of Jo’burg over the years so what do the ragbag of small ‘fringe’ political parties do? They vote the ANC back into power presumably because they have been given ‘promises’ by the ANC while the city sinks deeper into the mire. No wonder so many are moving from Jo’burg to the Western Cape.

  • Pet Bug says:

    Joh. That’s fourth word photos.
    And that’s democracy: win some, lose a lot.
    It’s really up to the citizens to chose a party that can make stuff work.
    They vote ANC or some irrelevant non-party – now they must make their beds in the mess they voted for.
    Spare me the crocodile tear reports from Joburg.

  • Paul Zille says:

    All aided by the years of support, soft peddling and free passes given to the Criminal Syndicate masquerading as a party by ANC groupies masquerading as journalists.

    • Hiram C Potts says:

      Agree, except that it’s more a case of a criminal syndicate masquerading as a government.

    • Glyn Morgan says:

      DM and News24 have knocked the DA so much over the years for tiny/imaginary points that The People do not know the difference between a functioning political party and the ANC. It is time that THE MEDIA got into gear are honest with The People. Has the DA got the best record of delivery of any political party? Yes/No? Yes, they have! So say so!

      • Carsten Rasch says:

        Zille has a lot to answer for in this debacle.

      • Gordon Oliver says:

        I agree with Glyn Morgan.
        Recommended reading: Economic Justice: A Sustainable Development Goal Model
        The DA’s plan for South Africa to beat the past and and build the future.
        It’s a doc that inspires and gives hope to our country – as opposed to the ANC’s disasterous “A better life for all”.

  • Rg Bolleurs says:

    Doesn’t cost a lot for the ANC to buy a city. Price of a few corrupt votes.

    As for the citizens who live there. afraid nobody cares a dam about you

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    To those born and bred in the city and its townships or those born and partly bred in the city reading your article and memories of the city brings tears in our eyes and heartache. You ask yourself a question who are these people who have become the city fathers and mothers and do they know Johannesburg? When you see the slum the city has become, you wonder what went wrong. You go to Hillbrow and Yeoville, the descent to a slum has been called an African City by some irresponsible political thugs. When you drive around the city, you are confronted by potholes, slum conditions and bold criminality. If you park your car in the city you will be without mirrors and sometimes headlights. Criminals rob people in broad daylight despite many metro police or the so – called cameras. You have police with a clown called Faith Mazibuko from the circus called Gauteng government with “Operation Okae Molao” how can the hell can law enforcement be saying such rubbish when we should be asking them? The emergence of Mashaba its people yearning for a clean city, enforcement of by – laws, safety and security when walking the streets of Johannesburg and proper maintainance of roads not through corrupt tenders of filling of pothole but the resurfacing of roads by the JRA. An end to daylight sale of drugs with police collusion. The ANC seemed not to get it when instead it brought vanity projects like bicycle lane in a very dirty and potholed city centre with no enforcement of by – laws.

  • Ruby Delahunt says:

    How is the Joburg City Council not ashamed? While they squabble over petty party politics their constituents roll up their sleeves and look after themselves. Why even bother pretending to care about us.

  • Thinker and Doer says:

    It is, indeed, depressing and infuriating, with the corruption and the coalition shenanigans. The residents of the city are paying more and more and more in rates for ever deteriorating services. We are soon going to be without any functional infrastructure. While all of the political infighting for positions and tenders continues, the city continues to collapse. How individuals, communities, and civil society in the city can come up with approaches to try to stop the cratering of the infrastructure and get the city moving towards functionality, again, is an important area that merits intensive work. As highlighted in the article, we certainly can’t hope that the government will do anything meaningful to address the crisis! On all levels, it seems we continually have to try to work around government, and find solutions to crises created by corruption and maladministration.

    • Paddy Ross says:

      Easy – stop voting for the ANC, EFF, and the numerous fringe political parties and instead give a clear majority to the only party that has demonstrated that it can run a city and a province successfully.

  • Malcolm Mitchell says:

    I agree but point out that the role of the executive at all levels is far more important than that of politicians in maintaining and improving infrastructure. Unfortunately, “politics” has chased away all the competent staff during the past two decades, especially professional engineers. Also, the general public does not seem to act responsibly in respect of preventing littering.

  • Carsten Rasch says:

    I am so so sick, SO SICK, of the political parties in this godforsaken country. This is not just an ANC issue, its the politicians generally not giving a hoot about the people. It’s all about power and money, and the holier-than-you DA is as guilty as the PA, the ASA, the ANC and of course the EFF. I really can’t say who is most despicable. How do Joburgers fix this mess? The only option is a class action, but then you still have to deal with city staff, which have been sabotaging whatever the DA-coalition had been trying to do. This bodes no good for future coalition deals on a national level. No party can be trusted.

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