Two weeks ago, Mayor Parks Tau delivered what may be his last State of the City Address in Johannesburg. The speech was the lynchpin of a costly media blitz: full page adverts in newspapers like The Sunday Times trumpeting his supposed successes in office. Paid for by you – the taxpayer – these adverts are political propaganda costing hundreds of thousands of rand.
“He who controls the past, controls the future,” wrote George Orwell in the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Its main character, Winston Smith, famously gives ample evidence of the peculiar art of writing or rather rewriting of history by the fictitious Ministries of Love, Peace, Plenty and Truth, and with Big Brother affectionately watching over his shoulder. Smith, for his part, works for the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth, “rectifying” historical records and newspaper articles to make them conform to Big Brothers most recent pronouncements, thus rendering everything that the Party says true. What a job!
Power, the dictum goes, corrupts, and, equally, power reveals.
As the curtain rose on a much hyped speech, Mr Tau simply presented repackaged previous pledges and failed promises. With a flair for the grand gesture and technical minutiae, it was structured to divert attention away from the harsh reality of residents’ lives in the townships. It failed to speak to their daily hardships and desperation. In no way did it mirror what I’ve witnessed on the campaign trail.
Let’s take the economy.
Mr Tau said that his administration was committed to developing a resilient and job intensive economy. He said this, as though he was not in control over the past five years.
Last week, however, Stats SA announced that 66,000 people in Johannesburg had joined the ranks of the unemployed in the first quarter of 2016. Johannesburg’s rate of unemployment is now over 31%. This is in stark contrast to Cape Town at 21%, while Midvaal municipality boasts the lowest unemployment rate in Gauteng.
The city’s finances – your money, again – are the motor engine of an enabling and capable government. Glaringly, Mr Tau missed the opportunity to address the City’s lack of strategic financial planning. Johannesburg’s wasteful expenditure in the last financial year was R362,594,000.
Let’s look at what another Metro’s wasteful expenditure is, to compare.
Just R339,000 for the City of Cape Town shows that your money was spent on delivery and progress, rather than wasted on corruption and maladministration.
In simple terms, this means that the rate of wasteful expenditure in Johannesburg is 1,100 times greater than in Cape Town.
Three-hundred-and-sixty-two-million wasted under the ANC, versus just R339,000 under the DA, in the same time period.
The state is weak in Johannesburg. And Parks Tau’s address was a fairy tale from a broken-promises mayor.
What we cannot ignore though is that the people are strong. If I am elected on August 3, the Mayor’s office will examine the City’s balance sheets, cut out wasteful expenditure, and we will stop corruption. We’ll save hundreds of millions and we’ll dedicate them to changing the circumstances of our poorest people.
Johannesburg stubbornly remains one of the most unequal cities in the world. While the promise sounds impressive, the repeatedly announced ‘Corridors of Freedom’ will not lay down pipelines of opportunity. As a baseline, economists agree that the City economy must grow by 5% per annum to cut through the adverse conditions that create widespread poverty and inequality. The best laid-out spatial corridors cannot work without economic growth, which is mainly incubated in the small- and medium-sized business sector. Add new bus routes all one may, while the city loses jobs, what opportunities and what freedom are people connecting to, Mayor Tau? There is no freedom in taking a new bus to a “No Vacancies” sign.
But with change, there is hope.
If the DA wins Johannesburg, I will personally oversee the creation of the Small Business Support Unit, to promote entrepreneurship and job creation. Young job creators will naturally be prioritised. Small business owners will be able to access support services from a network of business partners, financiers and smart business tools in the city. I will follow the Open Data policy as was implemented in Cape Town, leading to the publication of quarterly city reports on the state of the economy. This will save entrepreneurs valuable time and ensure that they have the correct and most up to date information to enable them to thrive.
Mr Tau, of course, waxes eloquent about harnessing the creativity of the private sector. The private sector however can only thrive when the right infrastructure is in place, and we can actually switch on the lights to make it all happen. The City suffers from at least 300 power outages a month, with Honeydew the worse hit. This is an average of nearly 10 outages a day.
As an energy analyst, Chris Yelland, was reported as saying, “The cost of not having electricity for productive purposes when you need it is very much higher than the electricity itself.” This has serious consequences for areas like Wilgeheuwel and Radiokop. Alexandria’s 180,000 residents were hit by five outages last month.
Yet Mr Tau failed to outline plans to ensure that City Power has a proactive strategy with a fully skilled technical staff, or a backup scheme in case of an emergency and a full City Power failure.
Simply put, the Mayor and his administration revealed that they lack the special skills needed to take this special City forward. Power truly does reveal.
In contrast, in the DA we’ve been amazed at the life-affording possibilities of city and municipal government to change lives. Every voter in Joburg must soon consider which party is most likely to deliver change that moves South Africa forward again. DM
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Herman Mashaba is the executive mayor of Johannesburg. An entrepreneur, businessman and family man, Mashaba founded the famous company Black Like Me. His inspirational life story of overcoming formidable odds has captured the imagination of many South Africans. Born in near-poverty in GaRamotse in Hammanskraal, and raised by his sisters while his absent domestic-worker mother worked long hours, Herman sees his lifes purpose to help others find a ladder out of poverty.
"Look for lessons about haunting when there are thousands of ghosts; when entire societies become haunted by terrible deeds that are systematically occurring and are simultaneously denied by every public organ of governance and communication." ~ Avery Gordon