It is not normal for a society to be this unequal, hence we cannot adopt a classical approach to our challenges, writes Ralph Mathekga.
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Herman MashabaAugust 22, 2016 marked a turning point in the City of Johannesburg. The people of our city cast aside the ANC and replaced it with a multi-party government that could never again take them for granted.Nearly every political party campaign platform in the 2016 election campaign held change at it the core of its value proposition. The residents of our city responded to this in droves, angry and frustrated by years of arrogant, entitled and corrupt government.This multi-party government was to operate on the unequivocal mandate of delivering change. However this change had to be defined against the context of the needs of our residents and the staggering backlogs that were inherited.One could quite easily liken the state of the city inherited in 2016 by the multi-party government to the inheritance of the child of a degenerate gambling parent. The 'credit-card' of the City had been maxed-out by borrowings against the future that were now due.Backlogs in service delivery infrastructure had reached a mountainous, unfunded R177 billion over the next 10 years. Electrical sub-stations, built in 1927, continue are held together on a prayer while leaky water pipes are amassing over 50 000 leaks per year.
What has become clear over the last 18 months for the multi-party government, is that our predecessors had it horribly wrong. In its delusional obsession to be the 'World Class African City' in the eyes of international community, the City failed by attempting to do too much, with too little across too many areas of intervention.The people of our city paid the price for this. How else do you explain that the community of Slovo Park, named after Joe Slovo, had to take the City to court in 2015 to receive the most basic of services after 21 years of democracy? It took the multi-party government to finally do this in February this year.The result of this is that the City would spend R162 million on active lifestyle programmes but only R15 million on providing sanitation to its 181 informal settlements. It would spend over R500 million on sports and recreation whilst accepting there was not enough money to improve the road network. The examples go on, and on. The City had confused its priorities, and was governing while ignoring the voices of its residents which grew louder and louder.
An approach that's never been followed before
The approach to the 2018/19 Budget and Integrated Development Plan (IDP) is different to what has ever transpired before. We have adopted the Diphetogo program, in seSotho this means real, transformational change. It was borne of the understanding that if we continue as before, we will only achieve small incremental changes in the City.There will be a few less potholes, a few more houses, a few more informal settlements with services and the City may look a little better. This is not the change that our residents had in mind when they went to the polls in 2016.The Diphetogo program we have adopted in our planning for the 2018/19 Budget, calls for a fundamental departure from the past. It means that we have to identify those non-negotiable priorities that arise from the needs of our residents and invest more than ever before. It requires of the multi-party government to accept its responsibility to lay a foundation that has never been achieved before. This foundation has to be achieving the basic conditions in our city where businesses, communities and people can prosper.The work of our government will now begin to focus on infrastructure investment that will improve the reliability of services to those who have them, and take services where they have never been before.We will invest in a rollout of housing opportunities, across all typologies, which will achieve a real impact in our housing backlog, rather than the traditional meagre rollout of 1000 units per year against a demand exceeding 300 000.We will revamp services to SMMEs through Opportunity Centres that provide the kind of support that can lead to sustained growth. We will provide facilities to informal traders in our city and advance young people through artisanal training programmes to drive skills development and job creation.We will carry on extending the operating hours of more clinics and libraries, and ensure that new mobile clinics increase the reach of our primary health care efforts to our informal settlements and the previously forgotten people.We will improve the conditions of our road network and bridges that are crumbling, and deliver tarred streets to places that have only ever known gravel roads.We will install more street lights and increase intelligent policing initiatives that will make communities safer, and criminals more wary. And of course, we will continue to rid the City of corruption at all costs in order to ensure those in government are there to serve our residents and not just their pockets.Disinvesting in past prioritiesIn order to achieve this, we will have to disinvest from the projects and programmes of the past that do not speak to the priority needs of our residents, especially the most vulnerable. For many, defining something as a non-priority, from which we will disinvest, is difficult. However, in our context, bold leadership is required.Government must make the difficult choices, demanded by our residents. We have to plot a new path and define our priorities as those that address the most fundamental needs of our city.It is not that the projects and programmes being de-prioritised are without value. However, their value is diminished when successive governments have not achieved the most basic conditions under which people and businesses can prosper. By way of example, should the only working electrical outlet in a community really be connected to a swimming pool pump?Through Diphetogo the most critical needs of our residents, communities and businesses will, for the first time, begin to receive long-term investment that will drive transformational change in our city. The effect will be a city where basic service delivery, redressing the legacy of our painful past, and growing our economy to create jobs can be realised.It means, for the multi-party government, ours must be to accept the role of laying the foundation by getting the City working. A focus on achieving the basics that no government before has bothered to focus on.We must embark upon this journey together, in partnership with our residents. It will not be immediate, but we can work together to set this city upon the right direction for the first time. In doing so we can work together to build a city that works, a city where government achieves the conditions for people to prosper, a city of golden opportunities.
- Mashaba is executive mayor of the City of Johannesburg.
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