Guest Column

Joburg's wealthiest gifted billions at the expense of its poorest

2018-12-13 12:43
The City of Johannesburg.

The City of Johannesburg.

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Dear Mayor Herman Mashaba

Whilst the Global Citizen Festival paid tribute to Nelson Mandela, focusing the attention of the world on Johannesburg and the need to alleviate poverty, the City is continuing to gift billions to its wealthiest residents at the expense of its poorest.  

It has been brought to your attention often during your mayoral tenure that a core of the City of Johannesburg's elite businesses and ultra net-worth individuals are unduly benefitting from a multi-billion Rand rates holiday as a result of gross property undervaluations, but, regrettably, still no remedial action has been taken. 

For a city that has the second lowest municipal sustainability score in the country (narrowly avoiding Mangaung's last-place fate), it is difficult to understand why its administration resists rectifying a financial inequity that would considerably help fund a budget promoted as pro-poor.  

Surely, a pro-poor budget without adequate funding is only 'pro-poor' in name as hundreds of thousands in the city go hungry; as more than 5 000 vulnerable child-headed families endure unbearable tragedy and face a bleak future without hope. 

READ: Seeing through the Global Citizen facade 

Patience, waiting for this wrong to be made right, has unfortunately not been a virtue, as the most advantaged continue to be unjustifiably enriched at the expense of the over 1,8 million residents suffering daily below the poverty line, the more than 800 000 jobless, and the more than 300 000 families subsisting in shacks (many without access to a toilet; and now many without even rudimentary shelter for Christmas due to the perilous Alexandra fire). 

It's a double-blow for ratepayers contributing more than their fair share too; unknowingly subsidising those better off than themselves, in an unfriendly economic climate, as service delivery and infrastructure decline, and only crime increases.   

Aiding and abetting those who are not fairly contributing, but are most able to do so, compounds Johannesburg's ignominious status as the most unequal city in the most unequal country in the world. The consequences of continued inaction are clearly dire, not only for those most in need but for all the city's residents.

If Johannesburg does not substantially redress poverty, inequality and unemployment when it has the means to do so, which it has been demonstrated to you it does, we should not be surprised when our society breaks down in pent-up animosity and conflict. Indeed, the Global Citizen Festival had barely ended when there was an outpouring of vandalism and violence in the streets. 

It would not be unreasonable at this point, therefore, to suggest that rectification of significant property undervaluations of a privileged few in the City of Johannesburg, for the benefit of the many disadvantaged, is overdue. 

In keeping with the 100th year of Nelson Mandela's birth, in his words: "Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity, it is an act of justice."  

More than a show is needed. What is needed is #AnActofJustice.

- Lindsay-White is a former DA councillor.

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