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In my State of the City Address in 2017, I spoke of "The Forgotten People".
I deliberately used this term to describe the residents of the City of Johannesburg who never formed part of the politically connected elite who had enjoyed the attention of governments of the past.
I did this to relate to the residents of our city, who after 23 years of a democratic South Africa, remained without the basic dignity that was supposed to follow with the attainment of democracy.
It never came. Year after year passed, while their voices grew louder and louder.
In addressing their concerns, government acted like they were doing our residents a favour just by listening.
On 22 August 2016, the multi-party government came into office with the mandate for change that was to bring about this dignity. Change as an idea is so often located in the discussion of numbers. This makes sense, given so many of our challenges reside within massive backlogs that can only be expressed in numbers.
However, this does mean that we lose the very human stories that lie behind the achievement of change in our city.
This piece is a small effort to describe this change as it relates to two very recent events in Johannesburg. The first is the electrification of Slovo Park.
In 2015, this community took the City of Johannesburg and provincial government to court for their failures to provide any improvement in their lives since 1994.
The judge found in their favour and in his judgment made the following remark:
"They have been residing in Slovo Park for a period of up to 21 years. For all of this time they have lived in deplorable conditions, they have no access to electricity, shack fires break out at a rate of 1 every 2 months and are often fatal and ambulances refuse to collect the sick from Slovo Park because the roads are not formally demarcated, do not appear on a map, are not signposted and as a result individual residents cannot be located."
The judgment goes on to refer to how this community had been promised by all three spheres of government to provide services, but these promises never materialised.
The project was launched in February this year for a community that could definitely be regarded as part of the forgotten people of our city.
On 10 July 2018, I will have the privilege of flicking the switch on the project which will have electrified the thousands of residences at Slovo Park.
Approximately 6000 people in this community will now have their children study under a light bulb. Criminals will no longer operate with impunity under the cloak of darkness. Shack fires from the use of paraffin stoves will no longer destroy lives and possessions. Illegal connections will no longer take the lives of the children in the streets.
In electrifying this community, it became apparent that most residents live below the level of household income that can afford electricity.
The City, working with the EFF, has embarked upon the registration of residents onto the Extended Social Package which will afford them free electricity within the bands offered by the City for qualifying residents.
This is change.
The second story arises from the City's insourcing of 4000 security personnel.
Before this decision was implemented, the City spent R600m per annum paying security companies an average R14 000 per security guard, while the guards themselves received just under R4000 per month.
This formed part of the City's pattern of outsourcing critical and permanent services as a part of its vast patronage network. To our predecessors, wealth belonged with the owners of these companies.
I took the decision to insource these security guards after engagements with the EFF.
The result is that on Sunday 1 July, the first 1642 security guards reported for their first day of work for the City of Johannesburg.
Through this process we managed to achieve their salaries increasing from less than R4000 per month to at least R6000 per month.
They will receive benefits of a pension and medical aid, some for the very first time in their lives. All of this while not costing the ratepayers of our City one cent further.
As we proceed in the coming months, we will be bringing in more and more of these security guards into our employ until we have achieved the full 4000.
I ask you to pause and imagine that this benefit has now changed from few households of owners of security companies laden with luxuries, to over 4000 households in our city.
These 4000 households will now see take home pay increasing by a minimum of 50%. Pensions will now be in existence for people so that they can have a better financial future after retirement. Their access to healthcare will improve from a medical aid.
The kind of change achieved in stories like Slovo Park and the Insourcing Program, is why I changed direction in my life. I left my arm chair, planning my retirement after a long business career to become a civil servant. I did this because I could no longer stand to see what was happening in my country.
The people of the City of Johannesburg, and my coalition partners, bestowed upon me the greatest privilege in my life. Without a doubt the toughest privilege, but definitely the greatest.
To bring change to the forgotten people of our city. What a privilege.
- Mashaba is executive mayor of the City of Johannesburg.
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