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The difference between rhetoric and reality in Joburg mayor Gwamanda’s promises

The difference between rhetoric and reality in Joburg mayor Gwamanda’s promises
Johannesburg mayor Kabelo Gwamanda. (Photo: Gallo Images / Fani Mahuntsi)

Johannesburg executive mayor Kabelo Gwamanda’s recent 2024 state of the city address showed that the gap between promises and implementation is still vast in the city of gold. Daily Maverick takes a look at whether he’s delivered on promises made during his maiden address in 2023.

Water 

In 2023, Gwamanda said the water crisis was high on his agenda and promised to find sustainable, long-term solutions to the infrastructure problems plaguing the city. 

Part of his plan included that the city would implement an accredited geyser installation training programme in all regions of the city, targeting 140 residents as part of a comprehensive skills development strategy. It would appear that the city has yet to begin this programme. In his address last week he made no mention of this.

Instead, Gwamanda acknowledged the water challenges, which he does not consider to be a crisis despite recent outages that affected half of the Johannesburg water supply area.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Joburg mayor says there is no water crisis as Eikenhof pump station goes down again

His administration recently approved a “Water Security Strategy” intended to ensure sustainable water management and future water security.

On the soaring levels of non-revenue water in the city, Gwamanda said it was an urgent matter which was also receiving attention from Minister of Water and Sanitation Senzo Mchunu, who provided a “solid commitment” for partnership in investment into the water infrastructure of Johannesburg. 

The mayor went into neither the impact of nor progress made in the war against water leaks despite Johannesburg having recorded a score of 48.2% in April 2024’s benchmarking report on water losses in eight of the country’s big cities. 

“Once again, we must be reminded that we all have a responsibility to report water leaks in the streets and urgently fix those within our yards,” Gwamanda said. 

Water is accessible to 98.3% of households in the city, he said.

Electricity

In 2023, Gwamanda said the city had mandated City Power and the city manager to extend its power purchase agreement with Kelvin Power Station by another three years, ending in October 2026. It currently purchases 87% of its power from Eskom and Kelvin supplies the city with 13%.

He made no mention of this last week, but reiterated the city’s commitment to measures to tackle the crisis. 

“For too long, our city has been struggling with the endemic load shedding that has plagued South Africans. However, I am pleased to declare that we are taking firm measures to confront this obstacle directly,” he said.

It had been expected that Gwamanda would use his speech to address the tunnel fire that broke out beneath the double-decker section of the M1 highway in Braamfontein on Tuesday, 30 April. This was, however, not the case and to date it remains unclear when electricity will be restored to the affected businesses and homes. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Joburg residents still without power as teams assess tunnel fire 

Gwamanda said that for the 2024/25 financial year, the city intended to add another 50MW of power to the grid by bringing the Durban Street substation back online. 

“We have also planned for an additional 100MW by the financial year’s end. Our dedication towards avoiding load shedding reflects in these actions aimed at protecting our citizens from discomfort and distress,” Gwamanda said.

Crime 

In 2023, crime prevention efforts were among the key priorities and at the time, Gwamanda made several ambitious promises, including plans to recruit 2,000 crime wardens and a new initiative with the private sector that would give the JMPD access to more than 5,000 smart CCTV cameras “to allow us to monitor, track and trace crime suspects and perpetrators across the city”.

In 2024, Gwamanda confirmed that the city had made significant progress through the newly relaunched JPMD Tactical Response Unit making use of CCTV cameras in partnership with private company Vumacam. 

“The Tactical Response Unit has over the last year recovered a total of 570 vehicles, 87 illegal firearms and conducted 127 drug busts in the city. In a coordinated manner and with the deployment of intelligent tactics and systems, we are slowly making inroads in our fight against crime in the city,” Gwamanda said.

Despite making some progress in crime prevention efforts, the mayor said he had sleepless nights over the crime and violence that plagued the communities of Westbury and Eldorado Park. 

“The brazenness with which gangs target and murder community activists and innocent residents is a worrying and horrifying reality.” 

Gwamanda has since ordered MMC for Public Safety Mgcini Tshwaku to find solutions.

Financial stability 

Last year, the mayor said he spent time looking at the true state of the City of Johannesburg and concluded that “what we know now is that the city’s finances remain strained.” 

At the time, the city was nearly bankrupt, with more than R6-billion in unpaid supplier invoices. To mitigate against this Gwamanda announced that his administration had approved a short-term loan facility to begin to clear the unpaid invoices. 

Last week, Gwamanda suggested that the city’s financial position had improved without giving specifics: “We are pleased to assure residents that their city remains financially stable and is committed to delivering on its mandate and promises.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: SA’s largest city may not be able to pay its debt, warns Johannesburg finance boss 

The mayor emphasised the Auditor-General’s findings for the current financial year: “I take great pride in revealing that our city and all its entities have achieved an unqualified audit opinion. This underscores our unwavering commitment to transparency and prudent financial stewardship,” 

Opposition parties in council were critical of Gwamanda’s speech, with some suggesting that he had no plan to rescue the city and that his address was merely a wishlist. 

DA councillor Nicole van Dyk criticised Gwamanda for urging residents to show resilience amid several challenges: “To ask residents to show resilience when Johannesburg residents are resilience fatigued is not going to build pliability to what it is they face – a city of broken pipes, power lines and dreams.”

ActionSA’s caucus leader Nobuhle Mthembu said the city was in a deep crisis that Gwamanda’s address merely exacerbated residents’ fears: “The mayor spent more than an hour blowing hot air. Residents of Johannesburg don’t need Shakespeare, they need a mayor.”

Mthembu, however, noted that some strides had been made in mitigating rolling blackouts. 

The IFP’s Mlungisi Mabaso said that Gwamanda’s address failed to give a proper account of previous commitments, challenges and solutions, or give confidence to investors and residents.

“Residents want to see the city actively engage in practical solutions. They will never understand strategies on paper, they will only understand when they see water running out of their taps, when roads are tarred and resurfaced, when their lights are on, when traffic lights are functioning.”

Freedom Front Plus (FF+) councillor Franco de Lange said it could not be business as usual, suggesting that the SAPS and JMPD were incapable of handling the serious, violent crimes residents grappled with daily, and which chased away investors. 

On the city’s finances, De Lange said that “the residents of this city are tired of paying high fees for rates and taxes and they do not get a proper flow of electricity and water.” DM

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