Newly elected City of Joburg mayor plans to clean up the city

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Mpho Phalatse is the new mayor of Johannesburg. Photo: Rosetta Msimango/City Press
Mpho Phalatse is the new mayor of Johannesburg. Photo: Rosetta Msimango/City Press

POLITICS

If not for her passion to serve the community, newly elected City of Johannesburg mayor Mpho Phalatse might have been an tenderpreneur, doing business with government. However, the qualified medical doctor's altruistic drive led her to venture into politics.

In 2011, Phalatse – who was born in Hebron, Pretoria – closed her company, which had been contracted by the SA Social Security Agency in Gauteng and North West to do disability assessments.

She says:

My company was doing well, but, because of the poverty I saw in North West, I decided I wanted to help people. I didn’t have the skills I needed, so I knew I had to go back to school to acquire them.

She relocated to Alexandra, Johannesburg, where she worked in a casualty ward.

However, it was when five young men were wheeled into the ward with serious gunshot wounds, that Phalatse realised the help they needed extended beyond medical treatment. The mother of three decided then that she wanted to be a municipal councillor.

READ: Mpho Phalatse | What the DA can do for Jozi

Before that, her involvement in politics had been limited to discussions with friends. She was advised to apply to become a proportional representative councillor, and the DA helped her realise her dream by taking her in.

Yet her road to the mayoral office in Johannesburg was marred by controversy at times.

Mpho Phalatse
Phalatse was herself elected as mayor after the DA received unexpected backing from the EFF and ActionSA for control of the city. Photo: Tebogo Letsie/City Press

In 2018, Phalatse was suspended as a member of the municipal council for health and social development in Johannesburg by the city’s then mayor, Herman Mashaba, for allegedly saying that she and the city were friends of Israel.

While she did not retract any of the personal opinions she had expressed, she recognised that her statements might have caused confusion regarding the city’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

READ: Mashaba suspends Joburg Health MMC for ‘friends of Israel’ comment

Then, last Monday, Phalatse was herself elected as mayor after the DA received unexpected backing from the EFF and ActionSA for control of the city.

Her plans include removing the stigma attached to Johannesburg as a dysfunctional and crime-ridden city.

“People in Johannesburg are never sure whether they’ll arrive home to find they have electricity and water, or whether there’ll be more potholes and sewage flowing along their streets. These are the things that make me want to work hard to restore a sense of normality and humanity in our people,” she says, adding that she hopes to be remembered as a mayor who created a city that is conducive to healthy, happy living.

“One of the things I realised when I moved to Johannesburg was that it’s dirty, especially in the inner city. But you can’t blame people for that because it’s not like Pretoria, where you don’t need to walk far along any street before you find a dustbin. I don’t see that in Johannesburg,” she says.

She adds that many of the challenges are structural because the inner city has several diverse communities living in it, including informal traders.

Phalatse says: 

We’re going to provide supportive infrastructure for people to do the right thing. You can’t blame people for littering if you don’t provide them with dustbins.

She says her experience of going to the city’s notorious Noord Street Taxi Rank was marred by the sight of people using buckets to relieve themselves in the absence of usable public toilets.

“Apparently people own those buckets and make those who need to relieve themselves in them pay a lot of money for doing so. Those buckets are in plain sight of everyone, which is a disgrace. We can’t allow people to be stripped their dignity this way on a daily basis.”

She says her plans include creating a space that includes public toilets and basins, so that traders can work with dignity in a sanitary environment.

“In that way, we’ll begin to see a cleaner city because we’ll make it easy for people to do the right thing and comply with our by-laws,” she explains.

On the issue of crime, Phalatse says her council plans to create an integrated solution by working with the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department and a private law enforcement agency, as well as community law enforcement organisations.

“We’ll be doing this to increase our policing capacity and have a seamless flow of information between all the different law enforcement groups.

“We also want to [upgrade] surveillance to smart policing to ensure that CCTV cameras are linked to our intelligence operation centre. This will strengthen our capacity to respond to criminal acts quickly and effectively.”

READ: Election manifestos ignore gender-based violence and Covid-19

Phalatse says the council’s plans also include taking over Eskom supply areas such as Sandton, Soweto, Ivory Park and Orange Farm, where the power utility is failing these communities.

“But we don’t want to take over ageing infrastructure – we want Eskom to upgrade it first and then hand it over to us. We also don’t want to inherit the mountain of debt that Eskom’s accumulated over the years because it allowed a culture of nonpayment to grow.”

Her council will be transforming this culture of nonpayment through education and awareness campaigns to make people understand why it is important to pay for services.

She explains:

We’ll need to introduce those who can’t pay to extended social packages of services so that they can access rebates on their water, electricity and property rates, which will help relieve their poverty.

In addition, says Phalatse, there is a plan to introduce incentives for whistle-blowers.

“We’ll establish a specialised unit to crack down on illegal connections of electricity. We’ve already gathered a lot of information on the ground as to who’s behind these criminal acts, and some of them are City Power contractors who’re connecting people illegally to the grid.

“With the help of our community, we’ll succeed because we want to incentivise those who come forward with the information, while also protecting their identities.

“We’ll also be investing heavily in water infrastructure, building reservoirs and replacing old pipes,” she says, adding that the city is currently losing about 44% of water because of leaks.


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