The economic future of South Africa largely depends on the successful management of its major urban areas. If the country ever wants to achieve an economic growth rate that is able to create jobs, stimulate entrepreneurship and lift people of out poverty, it will have to be generated in the cities.
This is the reason why the decision by the voters of Johannesburg to entrust their future to the Democratic Alliance-led coalition administration at the recent local government elections is such a seminal event. It is more than a mere rejection of 20 years of bad administration, of cronyism and accumulated hubris, of unresponsiveness and being treated with contempt by the previous regime.
It was also a pivotal turn towards a positive alternative. A recognition that there are, indeed, political movements and fresh leaders that can end the stagnation of ANC rule and put in place a new vision and a new plan based on measurable targets.
The 10-point plan I introduced last month drew immediate praise from residents across the spectrum, from the media and commentators and from the business community – both large and small – because it offers practical platform for the revival of the Joburg economy.
It is a succinct and practical document. It does not get stuck in idealistic visions or nebulous statements of intent. It sets out what we want to achieve, how we are going to achieve it and how the people of Joburg will be able to evaluate our performance and measure our success.
On all ten of the issues we have hit the road running. Long-time residents who have been waiting for decades to become owners of their homes have already started receiving their title deeds.
We will also continue to slash red tape and accelerate the housing delivery process because this is crucial in our efforts to give people a stake in the economy of our City and encourage them to become productive citizens.
A second element is our relentless war against corruption and waste in the City. I have declared this to be “public enemy number one” during the election campaign and I regard my election as Executive Mayor as a mandate from Joburgers to root out this scourge in our city.
Corruption is not only wrong because it enriches officials and cronies of the powerful who grow fat on sweetheart deals and lucrative contracts. It is also wrong because corruption has a direct impact on the levels, costs and quality of service delivery experienced by residents.
Every rand pocketed by an official or given to a crony tenderpreneneur is a rand taken from a single mother in Alexandra, a pensioner in Turffontein or an emerging businesswoman in Protea who has been excluded from opportunities because she does not have the inside contacts.
We also need to deal decisively with public servants and officials who steal time from the city by not doing their jobs, by neglecting their responsibilities or who are not qualified for the position they are occupying. There is thus, a clear link, between our war on corruption and our commitment to create a professional public service that delivers to our residents according to the highest possible standards.
A third – and linked – priority is our commitment to revitalise the inner city of Johannesburg. Decisions on whether to invest or start enterprises in a specific area are often influenced by first impressions. And the sad truth is that any visitor, any tourist, any potential investor who ventures into the urban core of Johannesburg will be appalled by the filth, the traffic chaos, the decaying buildings and the dereliction of our inner city.
The lack of political will has caused the original central business district to decay and many companies to take flight and relocate to areas such as Sandton, Rosebank or Midrand. I have been inundated by some of the most successful companies in the country who want to base their operations in the inner city – but who are unable to make this move out of concern for safety, inaccessibility and a simple refusal to conduct their business in such a filthy environment.
When you combine clean administration, zero tolerance for corruption, the creation of opportunities for entrepreneurs and a commitment to establish a conducive physical environment you create confidence.
One of the most encouraging signs in the first 60 days of our administration in Joburg has been the interest among the business community to invest in a well-run urban environment. I have had the opportunity to interact with the Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the South African Property Association, the American Chamber of Business, the British Chamber of Business, and SwissCham to share our vision with their members.
I have also attended a function where the Marriott Hotel Group and the Amdec group held a ground breaking ceremony for two brand-new luxury hotels in Johannesburg which will be built over the next three years.
The message is clear. If we are able to create an environment of stability, of safety, of predictability in policy, the investors will consider opportunities to invest in our City – including in our inner city.
I have committed the City to take the lead by improving safety and visible policing, by cleaning up the filthy streets, fixing the derelict infrastructure and ensuring reliable power, water and refuse removal.
I have no doubt that the business community will respond positively by returning to the inner city and commit to new investments. This will, in turn, create a virtuous cycle of growth, job creation, economic opportunities and revenue generation that will benefit every single citizen in Johannesburg – especially the poor and the marginalised. DM
Herman Mashaba is the executive mayor of Johannesburg.