Our sick inner city

2011-02-09 00:00

THE African National Congress has had to introduce Operation Chihuahua because it has failed the inner city.

When the ANC took control of the municipality, it pursued a political agenda that dictated that no money be spent on the old city but mainly in the western suburbs, resulting in the old city infrastructure deteriorating.

The ANC seemed to think that bylaws were elitist and did not have to be strictly enforced. The impact of these irresponsible policies has been catastrophic and consequently the inner city is very sick. A responsible city government would have planned for phased investment in new infrastructure while ensuring sufficient resources for the maintenance of existing water, electricity and road networks.

There are now whole sections of roads where the street lights do not work. Although repairs are sometimes done, they do not last, because the infrastructure is old and needs upgrading. This makes the inner city a dangerous place at night and could compromise evidence gathered on CCTV cameras erected as part of the Safe City project.

The ANC has allowed street trading, introduced to assist unemployed people to sell their own products, to get completely out of hand. About 40% of the informal traders are fronts for formal traders. The rental for a demarcated trading site is minimal, so a wealthy businessperson can make a large profit on the street while contributing little to the city's coffers. Sites stretch over parking bays into roadways, but when a former head of security tried to take action, he was stopped by ANC politicians.

Nothing makes a town look uglier than old posters that have been torn from walls, leaving a mess. The city's bylaws prohibit the pasting of posters on walls or on any other surface, or nailing them to trees. If Operation Chihuahua is going to prosecute organisations that stick posters all over walls, bridges, electricity substations and lampposts then the ANC and its allies should be the first to be brought to book.

Plants are an essential part of a cityscape, especially in a hot climate like ours. The trees and gardens all over the city were once a talking point and the city boasted an excellent nursery, where many top horticulturists received training. Today there is no longer a nursery to speak of. A couple of old hands try to do propagating but there is no will on the part of the ANC to make the city beautiful. Old and fallen trees are not replaced and soon the inner city will be a hot, shadeless, dusty and unattractive place. Even Alexandra Park, where once one could take a stroll and see beauty, is now a series of cages separating various activities and the space between is rank grass or, like the rock gardens, an overgrown, dangerous place to be.

The ANC-led municipality wants to take over the promotion of tourism in the city. There was a time when one of the tourist attractions was a walking tour of the historic buildings and lanes of the city centre. By neglecting the inner city, the ANC has destroyed that attraction, and the places people used to visit are now full of litter, stink of urine, are covered in illegal posters and are a haven for the rapidly increasing colony of rats.

The influx of people into the inner city, which happens the world over, puts a huge strain on existing housing. There is also a demand for more business areas. With careful forward planning, the city could cope with both these needs but the ANC has failed to address them, with the result that there are now hundreds of illegal uses all over the inner city, and there are people living in inappropriate housing. I wonder if the ANC even understands what a town planning scheme is all about.

When the Group Areas Act was scrapped and people could live wherever they wanted to, many folk from the western suburbs moved into town. A good number of them were government employees — teachers, officials and police officers — who had access to housing subsidies, and they used these to buy houses in the inner city. The advantage was that they would no longer have to pay high transport costs, they would be living close to their work and shops, and the infrastructure was excellent. They really thought they were making a good investment.

The ANC has failed the people residing and working in the inner city. The ANC has failed to maintain the infrastructure, has allowed rent farms to develop unchecked, has not enforced the town planning scheme and has allowed illegal businesses, many of which should actually be in industrial areas, to proliferate, has lost control of the cleaning of the city, has allowed the streets to become dark at night, has allowed the rat population to increase, has failed to address the parking needs of the city, and has allowed the pavements to be taken away from the pedestrians. Even with Operation Chihuahua the scars left by 16 years of neglect will be very deep.

What happens in the inner city impacts on the whole municipality. The ANC has failed us all.

• Judith M. Lawrence is a Democratic Alliance city councillor.

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