In response to Herman Mashaba on Joburg's state of cleanliness

Photo: Jabu Kumalo
Photo: Jabu Kumalo

Residents expect waste management service levels to be met and clean up campaigns that are mere public engagements cannot be a substitute for proper waste management, write Trish Hanekom and Washington Nyabeze.

Dear Executive Mayor

You invited one of the authors to respond to a Twitter conversation about the cleanliness of Joburg. We are sharing our perspectives on this matter and then highlight advice we proffered you in the past.

We are residents of Joburg, we have served the city in various capacities as professionals for manyyears and we love our city. We supported the launch and participated in the A Re Sebetseng public awareness campaign. We were at the launch and supported the Jozi@Work clean-up campaigns offormer executive mayor, Cllr Parks Tau. 

In earlier years, we participated in the “Bontle ke Botho Clean Cities and Towns” and “Zap it in a Zibi” campaigns. It is the nature of public campaigns that they are refreshed periodically, and perhaps automatically when there is a change in political leadership. 

READ: Herman Mashaba - Open letter to Minister Derek Hanekom

As an aside, it would be our advice to any new political leadership to undertake an informed review of existing initiatives, to avoid fixing what is not broken, to improve and perhaps rebrand what is working well, and most importantly to focus on fixing what is not working.

Our metros command over 85% of the country’s economy. Failure of any municipality, especially the metros, to manage the constitutionally enshrined responsibilities of “refuse removal, refuse dumps and solid waste disposal” has economic, environmental and social consequences. The fact that parts of Joburg, primarily low income high density residential areas, are filthier than they have ever been, does not become less consequential just because parts of the same or another metro or town are equally bad or worse. 

For the record, Joburg’s waste management company, Pikitup, is wholly owned by the City of Johannesburg. As the executive mayor it is your company and the board which you appoint runs the company on your behalf. The board cannot function well without your full support and that of the member of the Mayoral Committee (MMC) for Environment and Infrastructure Services. The current leadership vacuum and complete absence of waste management expertise at the most senior levels of Pikitup is worrying.

We are former board members of Pikitup who resigned at the time of the AGM in March 2018. During our tenure we communicated in writing with you on numerous occasions. Our first communication was the day after your election on 23 August 2016. We congratulated you on yourelection and were pleased that you met the board and our legal team the next day as requested. The urgency was to brief you on the contents of the end of political term handover report of 16August 2016.

In brief, a 36-day strike ended in April 2016. Notwithstanding that the strike was unprotected, theroot cause was salary disparities. An agreement on salary parity was reached through a CCMA intervention. Simultaneously the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) made allegations against the then MD. The board and city manager, supported by the then executive mayor and MMC initiated an independent forensic investigation. Immediately after the investigation was completed in June 2016, the then MD was charged with financial and human resource management misconduct

As the new shareholder you confirmed your support for the decision already taken by the board to accelerate the termination of the contract of the then MD, to curb expenditure on arguing in limine points. In September 2016, after a CCMA ruling, the board proceeded with the termination and gave notice to the former MD of intention to recover amounts from her in terms of provisions of the Municipal Finance Management Act. The allegations of Samwu were simultaneously investigated by the public protector and to avoid any potential contradiction between the binding findings of the public protector, and findings of the court in the civil action, the board decided to delay progress with the civil action. The public protector released her report in October 2018 and her remedial action required the board to initiate criminal charges and progress the civil action. The civil action has now been reactivated.

You pose a question in your Twitter conversation about what was done during our tenure on the board.

The board reported at the AGM in March 2016, after a year in tenure of the then chairperson, that the company was solvent for the first time ever with an accumulated surplus of R108m compared to a deficit of R311m in the prior year. The company received its first ever clean audit. There was 90.5% operational landfill compliance; operational efficiencies had been introduced resulting in fleet management savings; 81 015 tonnes of waste were diverted from landfill sites, an increase of 160% from the prior year. 

17 Jozi@Work co-ops had been established. Participants in these co-ops received an expanded public works programme stipend to carry out the waste removal function in certain areas. Innovative entrepreneurial initiatives reclaiming recyclables, for the exclusive financial benefit of members of the co-op, supplemented the stipend. 

Pikitup had commenced with its strategic shift to realise value throughout the waste value chain with a specific focus on waste minimisation and resource recovery, separation as source, and “Team up to Clean up” waste campaigns, led by then MMC Cllr Mfikoe and executive mayor Cllr Parks Tau, involving organised labour, business and civil society.

At the AGM in 2017 the board reported an increased surplus to R293m, and an increase of over100%, to 170 501 tonnes, of waste diverted from landfill sites, thanks largely to the growth from 17to 35 co-ops. You had announced that the Joburg entities would be reabsorbed into the City within 18 months and we accordingly reported that the Jozi@Work model was being reviewed in line withthat decision.

Special leave had been approved for the former MD shortly after the 2016 AGM and at the time ofthe AGM in 2017 it would be fair to say that there was unfinished business, but stability in Pikitup.

We continued to serve on the board until the AGM in 2018, when a new chairperson was appointed and the shareholder and board agreed on the appointment of a new CEO and COO. We now share openly, the advice we offered previously:

1. The board has fiduciary duties in terms of the Companies Act and local government legislation. It must provide assurance that internal controls are in place and that it is not trading recklessly. The financial position of Pikitup and its overall performance has deteriorated. Directors are in capacitated by pronouncements and centralisation of decisions and functions which arefunded by Pikitup. 

On the other hand, directors can be held personally responsible for failing ontheir fiduciary duties and for not protecting the company’s interests. This governance impasse requires your urgent attention.

2. Soon after your appointment, the board informed your first MMC, Cllr Still, that we were willing to step aside to allow you to appoint a new board. Prior to the 2017 AGM, the board wrote to you confirming this and setting out “There are numerous pending legal matters and, in the event that you decide to appoint a new Board, members of the Board have indicated that they will avail themselves if required, particularly with respect to matters arising from the forensic investigation.” This offer still stands.

3. Last month the chair of the board was replaced by an acting chair and the CEO and COO resigned having served less than 2 years of their 5-year fixed term contracts and having receiveda premium remuneration package as compensation for lack of permanent tenure. There is now a dearth, if any, qualifications and experience in waste management remaining at executive level in Pikitup. To fulfil its mandate the permanent appointment of professionals with appropriate qualifications and experience is urgent. We also recommended the appointment of a financial economist with knowledge of the waste management value chain.

4. The board approved recommendations emanating from a comprehensive “Resource Recoveryand Logistics” study should be implemented. Amongst others this included simple redemarcation of depot boundaries, implementation of a transfer station and optimisation of staffing and fleet to reduce travel time of the compactor trucks. At the time of completion of the study in August 2016, this would have resulted in savings of R234m.

5. Whilst announcements have been made about compulsory recycling, announcements in the absence of infrastructure and method to enable this, and consequence management for noncompliance, Pikitup will not deliver results. Compulsory, clean separation at source requires:

• Implementation of the polluter pays principle – workplaces, malls and food courtsshould be required to install recycling bins.

• Appropriate volume (skips) recycling infrastructure on streets, with street monitors replacing street cleaners, to ensure compliance and arrange for bin replacement when bins are full. At present there are areas of the city with no bins of any description.

• An appropriate multiple bin system and fleet, with different collections days fordifferent waste streams, for households. This requires partnerships and organisation of reclaimers and the recycling industry.

• A fortnightly or monthly collection day for green waste, which makes up over 30% of total waste in the city. It is unrealistic to expect households to transport green waste to garden sites, especially those with very little disposable income.

• A similar special collection and recycling plan for the over 60 000 tonnes per annum of builder’s rubble.

This approach will stimulate new recycling industries and avoid recyclables ending up in landfill sites because they are contaminated at source and cannot be reused. Success in recycling will also dramatically change the required tariff structure for waste management.

6. Before our departure from the board, some progress was made in design and implementation of ward based planning for integrated waste management. In short, different receptacles and frequencies of collection of household waste are needed for low density high income residential areas, compared to high density low income residential areas. 

The plan for each ward requires responsiveness to the demographics and characterisation of the waste generated in that ward.

Evidence based planning will yield better results than ad hoc intuitive plans, and will allow the replacement of “end-of-pipe” street sweeping with entrepreneurial activity and dignified work inthe recycling industry.

7. As you are aware Joburg residents live with the impacts of past policies of exclusion some of which are hard wired into spatial planning. This is the challenge that has confronted past boards of Pikitup and which confronts you and the current board. 

Inclusivity and an integrated waste management system that is founded on waste reduction, reusing and recycling, deploying people and technology to clean the city and fast tracking alternative waste treatment technologies are what is needed.

8. We support awareness campaigns, of which A Re Sebetseng is one. In the context of Joburg rather than simply copying one model of monthly clean ups, campaigns in schools, in the workplace, at community events involving councillors and community leaders aimed at equipping communities with the knowledge and tools to change current practices over a defined period are more sustainable. To state the obvious, littering arising from lack or inadequate basic infrastructure cannot be resolved by campaigns, including gathering and burning waste in the open air. 

Residents expect waste management service levels to be met and clean up campaigns that are mere public engagements cannot be a substitute for proper waste management.

We offer this limited advice sincerely and believe it will help to create a clean city that reclaims its place as the economic hub of the country. We also have no doubt that this will yield upstream and downstream employment, decent opportunities throughout the waste value chain as has been realised in other countries.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Trish Hanekom and Dr Washington Nyabeze

- Dr Hanekom and Dr Nyabeze are former board members of Pikitup and were appointed to the board on account of their knowledge, expertise and experience in the field of waste management. They resigned from the board in April 2018.

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