The dirty face of Clean Sweep

2013-12-05 18:00

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This morning, at the same time as the Constitutional Court was making the City of Johannesburg’s legal team squirm and confess to their illegal removal of our street traders, I was sweeping the mayor’s courtyard clean. I had to chase people away. Sis. Oy. People. Disgusting. It was hard and emotional work.

Why? Well, because three weeks ago:

“The city is so fresh and clean now,” she says to me. My stomach turns. She has not been in the real Joburg for over a decade. “I heard it on Twitter,” she says. Ha.

We are walking outside the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. You know, that gleaming building, full of shiny people doing clean business in Lost Sandtos?

If she’d been anywhere near reading serious news or Albertina Sisulu Road in the last two months, she would know, despite the forced removal of thousands of informal entrepreneurs, the streets of our beloved Johannesburg remain, too often, as they have for decades now, pretty damn filthy.

Last Sunday, the day on which Mondli Makhanya saw fit to call for “just a little fascism” in a column about the city’s ambition in this newspaper, that same Albertina Sisulu Road in inner city Joburg was littered with last week’s newspaper, burnt mielie-meal yellowing in drains, stewing with the rubble of our sad histories, sewerage running free as the rats.

This is a festering breeding ground for a fearsome future, a dystopian hellhole marked by open manholes. Somewhere, down there, fool’s gold poisons the water. Do we not have enough of a crisis? Do we need more unemployed people as well as dirty streets? The #cleansweep project evidences no improvement to cleaning services – which we all want.

Our executive mayor, Parks Tau, he of “I wish Joburg was New York”, at the Gordon Institute of Business Science, earlier this week, defended his administration’s approach to humanity by saying lots of powerful corporate words – like “competitiveness”. He announced, too, that, in February 2014, Joburg will play host to an international Mayors Summit which will see his peers flying in from all over the world (read: carbon usage, junket, hot air), to discuss, wait for it, climate change.

Is this the reason why our mayor flouted our beloved Constitution? Must we pretend to be Cinderella at the ball for a day because he fears looking like a pumpkin? Shame. Today’s ConCourt ruling proved that our Constitution is worth much more than the paper on which it was written.

We have values, Mr Mayor. And make no mistake: we want clean and safe streets. And we will get them – but in a humane and fair manner. Imaginative would be good too. How about awards for the best (and cleanest) stalls and streets? Incentives are part of motivating small businesses to grow. What about financing? Coughs.

In the last two months, our city deemed the street traders to be the worst kind of filth. Never mind the infrastructure built by this administration for these same entrepreneurs. Never mind hunger. What were these children to us? Vermin. The city made them go.

Where to?

What then, is clean?

Is it the Civic Centre? I heard a spokesperson from that edifice, on radio, repeatedly stating: you have to understand that our world-class city administration is pro poor. Indeed, he said, they are having sleepless nights about all this.

Pity the poor overslumlords.

While the plethora of broken dustbins remain in forgotten files, old ladies, selling fruit and veg cheap to put their grandchildren through school, were treated like so much cockroach. Even the bookseller, covered in the grime of entrepreneurship, had his literature removed.

I am a Jew. My kin were prohibited from making a living in Nazi Germany. They too were deemed vermin.

“But I thought only illegal people were being removed,” she says to me as we pass the billions-rand-revamp currently overtaking Sandton City. “No,” I say. “Thousands of South Africans are affected, even you. “It is your Constitution too darling.”

I hum it as a ditty.

And, what is an illegal person, I ask? She says, you know – them.

She is talking about my grandparents.

So that’s why I had to go and clean up at the Civic Centre today.

I am beyond happy that the overlords were ordered to pay costs this afternoon. They need to clean up their act.

I was just trying to help them.

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