Opinionista Ian Ollis 24 July 2013

Alexandra’s in the poo, too!

The West Bank wards of Alexandra are in an unbelievable mess, for which the ANC run City Council must take a huge debt of responsibility. The Alexandra Renewal Project has stalled badly. Residents have to deal on a daily basis with a rat problem that beggars belief and the toilets are in a shocking state. Thankfully, residents are not tossing faeces yet. But frankly, that’s surprising.

I am sometimes amazed at how little our suburban middle class knows about living conditions in places like Alexandra Township. It is one of Johannesburg’s oldest townships and I remember serving on the Interim Crisis Committee’s funds management working group in the 90’s when Alexandra was in uproar. One section was so bombed out by police violence, warring ANC versus IFP factions, and petrol bombing that it was euphemistically branded “Beirut”.

Today, Alexandra is a different place in many respects. The glistening Pan-African Mall towers over the entrance to Alexandra near Louis Botha Avenue. London Road has been upgraded as a main thoroughfare and in the early 2000s, after an investigation by DA councillors, a second bulk water pipe was installed to create security of water supply when a pipe bursts. All streets are now paved or tarred, and the East Bank area has been developed since the building of the All Africa Games  “Tsutsumani Village” in 1999, and the opening of the Marlboro Gautrain Station. So to write letters to the media about “dirt roads” in Alex is simply not true. However, that’s where the improvement ends.

The West Bank wards of Alexandra are in an unbelievable mess, for which the ANC run City Council must take a huge debt of responsibility. The Alexandra Renewal Project has stalled badly. Residents have to deal on a daily basis with a rat problem that beggars belief. I visit Alexandra about once a week and, every time, have to step over a dead rat or two, some the size of small cats. I have a rather macabre collection of photos on my phone, which I tweeted about on social media recently. The City’s attempt at vector control has been an unmitigated disaster. It cannot be left to a few owls! A systematic and more regular removal of all rubble, garbage, litter and repair of leaking sewerage and water pipes are essential to reduce the vermin problem together with direct and regular vector control by the Environmental Health department.

Most of the hundreds of chemical porta-loos have long ago ceased functioning in Alexandra too and have now become rather unhygienic “bucket-system” toilets. One journalist I took to view them was so revolted that she wouldn’t approach close enough to even look inside one of them. Children play in raw sewage spills on a daily basis. Builder’s rubble and uncollected garbage lies on every pavement. I wonder constantly when we will have excrement throwing on the steps of City Hall as we have seen in other cities. Thankfully, the ANCYL hasn’t yet encouraged Alexandra residents, the way they did in Cape Town, in the art of poo throwing. The City of Johannesburg is a world-class African mess, and it’s time to get serious about the shacks of Alexandra!

I just cannot accept that the City of Johannesburg is doing enough to address the living conditions of residents in Alexandra. After the ANC promised residents of the Setswetla informal settlement in Ward 109 during the 2011 election campaign that the City and Province would provide toilets, fencing and improved housing, nothing has happened except broken promises. Julius Malema and the human settlements Minister, Tokyo Sexwale, organised a large rally for the party faithful and the future seemed rosy. Visit Setswetla today and you find just misery. If the Jukskei floods in October, these shacks will be washed away again.

Another problem shows the lack of political will and systems integration in the city. Builder’s rubble together with uncollected garbage lies strewn on most pavements in Alex. After repeated calls to the Marlboro Pickitup depot, this remains in piles on 4th Avenue. Pickitup says they can do nothing about garbage and builders rubble around electricity substations, transformers, fire hydrants and other municipal infrastructure because they are not permitted to remove this waste. Residents in Alexandra cannot be expected to negotiate the maze of council departments to find the correct department to log the complaint. Pickitup should be transferring the complaint to the correct department directly if they are unable to remove the waste.

Of course these are short-term problems. The long-term crisis is the situation of the unregulated housing construction, property resale and shack development. The land has never been surveyed properly on the West Bank and proper Erven determined. A few 3- and 4-storey bocks of flats were erected before the Alex Renewal Project on the West Bank ground to a halt. However, the rest of the West Bank is a mess. People occupy the land illegally and buildings have often been taken over illegally. One building, the Ganda Centre, was built and operated by Dr Ganda for the years leading up to 1993, with a clinic, doctor’s surgery and several small shops. This was damaged during the riots in the early 90s, and Dr Ganda fled when the fires erupted around the centre. The building was then invaded and occupied by random people who will now not move. They live in the centre with no electricity or proper running water, and have constructed various shacks on the roof level. Dr Ganda has recently approached the council to assist with moving the illegal occupants in order to get the centre reconstructed and the clinic re-opened. Council referred him to the court. The cost of legal fees, evictions and renovations are presumably prohibitive as any future profit from this centre will not be large.

Many other buildings in the western part of Alexandra exist in this state. Daily new shacks are erected and some now cover the road reserve, fire hydrants and the like. By allowing this ongoing illegal occupation and illegal building activity, the council is allowing Alexandra to continue to operate in a kind of extra-legal limbo. The only way out of this is to survey the land and move people off in city block sections while safe RDP housing or apartment blocks are erected for those entitled to live there (Provincial and local housing lists obtained… in a fashion). What is clear, however, is that progress has ground to a halt, and just over the hill from the Sandton CBD, a crisis is brewing. All we need now is Julius to return, having swopped his green beret for a maroon one. I certainly intend tackling the “World Class African” City Council before that happens! Where is Parks Tau anyway? DM

Ian Ollis is a DA MP and can be followed on Twitter @ianollis

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