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‘Go home’: Joburg council meetings on indefinite hold after Metro Centre closure

‘Go home’: Joburg council meetings on indefinite hold after Metro Centre closure
Johannesburg council chambers during the 16th extraordinary council meeting, where the election of a new mayor for the City of Johannesburg was on the agenda, 5 May 2023, Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sydney Seshibedi)

City of Johannesburg councillors and staff will be working from home after the closure of the city’s Metro Centre in Braamfontein.

Speaker of the Johannesburg Council Colleen Makhubele said the city had been forced to close its Metro Centre – which hosts the council and is the hub of the municipality’s operations – after a transformer exploded two weeks ago, causing a fire to break out.

“Since then the Metro Centre has been closed. It affected water and power supply. It’s not safe to move back in,” said Makhubele.

In a statement on Thursday, Makhubele said the closure of the Metro Centre and cancellation of Wednesday’s council meeting was due to electrical faults and a water outage at the Braamfontein building.

“As a result, the use of the facility poses a health and safety risk for the attendees, who include councillors, officials and the residents of the city. The suitable council facilities are unavailable on the said date, and the external facilities too costly,” read the statement.

“Furthermore, please note that a virtual meeting will not be practical due to load shedding. The details of the next council meeting will be availed in due course.”

Searching for an alternative

Makhubele told Daily Maverick on Thursday afternoon that the building’s safety issues were not new and had been raised in 2022. 

“The council took a resolution to vacate the building and that a plan be devised regarding where everybody would then be temporarily housed while renovations were under way,” she said. 

“But a plan has not been laid on the table as yet.”

Makhubele said a tender for alternative office space had been advertised, but the process was being handled by the Johannesburg Property Company (JPC) and she was not aware of its progress. 

“We had to cancel the council sitting because on Tuesday we received a report which was saying we should not consider using the council chamber because it was also unsafe,” she said.

Makhubele said alternative working space in Brixton had been considered because of the property’s convenience and compliance with safety regulations.

“But it was already booked for other various events around the city,” she said.

“When we then went out for a private service provider who could assist, such as Nasrec or the Gallagher Estate, they charged R1-million just for the venue.”

Makhubele said the exorbitant cost would not be suitable as it would require the city to deviate from its cost containment policy. 

“Considering online meetings is also currently not ideal because of load shedding,” she said. 

“We are looking at rescheduling the council meetings at Brixton in the next week or two once suitable dates have been agreed with individual councillors.”

‘Big impact’

Considering the importance of the council’s work in contributing to a functional Johannesburg, Makhubele said the impact of not being able to work at the Metro Centre was huge.

Reports destined for council on Wednesday were delayed.

“Even our emails were not working. Telephones are not working… the building is closed. So customer service, people reaching us, is a bit of a challenge,” said Makhubele.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Minister Mchunu slams absentee Joburg mayor after two-thirds of the city hit by water cuts

“There is a big impact on how we are operating… employees are working from home at the moment. MMCs and everyone is working from home,” Makhubele said. 

DA Johannesburg caucus leader Belinda Kayser-Echeozonjoku confirmed the cancellation of the council meeting and closure of the property. 

“We were informed that the building is unsafe. There was no appropriate venue to have the sitting,” she said on Thursday.

“The inability of council [to meet] means that no reports, like the quarterly reports, oversight reports, will be served and be interrogated through debates,” said Kayser-Echeozonjoku.

“No oral or written questions will be responded to and the business of council will be delayed,” she said. 

She said council meetings were broadcast live, which meant the public would be deprived of the opportunity to watch their representatives interrogate and table concerns raised.

Resolving the problems

“We still do not have a plan for when this might be resolved. We are awaiting a plan from the city manager who, during our engagement on Tuesday, was awaiting a plan from the JPC,” said Makhubele. 

She said mayor Kabelo Gwamanda and city manager Floyd Brink would advise the council on when the problems at the centre would be resolved.

Asked if the closure of the property and cancellation of the council meeting was a result of the fire at the building more than a week ago, Kayser-Echeozonjoku agreed, adding, “It was the fire and also the inability to find an alternative venue.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Fire at Joburg Metro Centre causes immediate closure — mayor, city manager and Speaker moved out

“Governance in the city has failed,” she said. 

“We have a Johannesburg where councillors are called racists for raising service delivery concerns… where councillors are threatened with legal action for asking that the city manager makes his official phone number public.

“It’s a Johannesburg that is captured where residents pay for politicians’ politically aligned allies to be placed in strategic positions in the city,” Kayser-Echeozonjoku continued.

She said the city’s administration was a “mess” and that the only way to solve the problems was to allow residents of Johannesburg a second opportunity at the ballot box to choose who they thought best represented them. 

The DA has proposed dissolving the council and holding fresh elections.

“The mayor and his MMCs and the speaker are likely afraid that there will be protests for service delivery at any venue outside of council chambers because they have failed the residents during a water crisis,” she said. 

The indefinite closure of the building has also raised concerns that it might open the doors for tender corruption to enrich some of the coalition partners in the city.

“We will not be surprised if the tender to host the council is fast-tracked to enrich cadres that are aligned to the ANC-EFF-PA doomsday coalition,” Kayser-Echeozonjoku said.

The ANC, EFF and PA could not be reached for comment at the time of writing.

“We have yet to hear what process is being followed in [the awarding] of the tender to host the council,” said Kayser-Echeozonjoku. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Bob Dubery says:

    How does the speaker think folks work from home, loadshedding and all? It would be cheaper by far to enable council to meet virtually than to hire premises. This sounds like an excuse for not meeting at all.

  • Iam Fedup says:

    If by “work” you mean attending parties to rename roads after convicted criminals, then by all means let them sit at home. With the exception of a handful of councilors – like Daniel Schay working tirelessly for his ward – the useless ANC, EFF, and other minor parties are just a waste of our money. And, I might add, if they stay at home, they will just continue to achieve absolutely nothing. The building may be broken, and it is symbolic of everything that these scoundrels touch.

    • Bob Dubery says:

      The Speaker wants everybody home and no meetings. That means council don’t discuss anything, no votes will be taken, NCMs can’t happen, and so the current executive will not be challenged on anything. There must be sittings of council. If that means virtual sittings then so be it.

  • R IA says:

    Good grief, I thought they all had generators at home. Yes, there is load-shedding, but not 24 hours a day. Yet. Schedule a meeting when lights are on. I suppose it’s far nicer to sit at home not working but still being paid.

  • Pardon me for being cynical – but I think that’s a load of BS. Panyaza has vowed to protect the puppet mayor on pain of death so shutting down the mecca results in his continued seat – to the detriment of all.

  • Denise Smit says:

    So a large metro council’s operations comes to a standstill because of loadshedding? (they can not meet virtually because of loadshedding) They will then do no work until eternity because there will always be loadshedding in South Africa. This is how the ANC/EFF/PA/Cope governs. Take tips to save yourself petrol and do everything but your work from home. Denise Smit

  • Denise Smit says:

    Why does the Provincial Government not place the council under administration. It has failed in every sense and councilars are not working and not delivering a service to the people. Denise Smit

  • Gabriel Smit says:

    “Woe to him who builds a town with blood and establishes a city by iniquity!”
    Habakkuk 2:12

  • Martin Neethling says:

    It goes without saying that this ‘go home and we’ll let you know when the next meeting’ is, screams absolute, deep, impenetrable incompetence. A transformer fire and the entire building is now unsafe. Of course. Zoom meetings? Nope, load-shedding. If there is any Joburg resident who secretly hopes that people are ACTUALLY working on the Bree Street blast damage or Albert Street fire tragedy, best think again. Not only can the collection of execrables that constitute the ‘government’ in Egoli not govern, they don’t want to. We need to be really clear, and really accurate in our recollection and retelling of how we got here, starting with Mashaba walking out in a huff and handing the City back to the ANC, and then second time round Gayton McKenzie demanding ‘more’ after coalition talks were settled and implemented (cheered on by Action SA’s Beaumont), and the consequent in again out again yo-yo of recent times, Makhubele always in the centre of it.
    Joburg is now a metaphor for where we as SA are headed unless the ANC and friends are unelected. It’s a scenario of a total absence of any pretence of Government, amateurish road signs to mark another name change stunt apart.

  • Please indicate to when the general public will be able to continue with their everyday business in this building.
    At present, the building industry is being held to ransom by the closure.
    This closure is leading to illegal buildng activity within the indusrty and the City of Johannesburg.
    Law abiding citizens are being forced into breaking the law!!

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