Mail & Guardian 14 May 2019
Armed with slick presentations the City of Johannesburg has been at pains to explain to the residents of South Africa’s oldest township why their lives have not visibly improved.
The inquiry — conducted in partnership between the South African Human Rights Commission and the office of the public protector — was established to investigate the quality of life of people living in Alexandra, and the impact that problems have on their human rights.
Alex came into the spotlight recently following the #AlexTotalShutdown protests in April, where residents protested against the poor service delivery in the township and issues surrounding provision of housing and land invasion.
City manager Ndivhoniswani Lukhwareni presented a slideshow before the inquiry where he highlighted the work that the city has done to maintain the services in the township, as well as infrastructural development.
The presentation relied heavily on before and after photos of areas that have been cleaned by the municipality as evidence. These photos are “technical proof” that the city is active in Alex said Lukhwareni.
After highlighting what the city had done in Alex, Lukhwareni was at pains to refute the allegations put against the city by residents during Monday’s sitting of the inquiry.
Residents charge that the city does not care about the township and has forgotten them, to a point where trash spills over into the streets, cemeteries are uncared for and officials don’t want to meet with the community.
“Yesterday’s session might have given the impression that the city does not engage with the community, which is false,” Lukhwareni said.
He also presented the commission with evidence of “cluster meetings” held between the city and ward members from the township as proof that there had been meetings before the protests in April.
Lukhwareni also denied that the city had decreased the level of services it provides, especially when it comes to waste management.
The city manager told the commission that service provider Pikitup works in the township 7 days a week but in different sections. He emphasised that events like protests cause a backlog in waste collection, which takes a while to catch up on.
Alexandra renewal project
During the protests, the perceived failure of the Alexandra Renewal Project, which had an alleged allocated budget of R1.3-billion, was brought to the fore.
The project was launched by government in 2001, with the goal of changing infrastructure and the economy in the township.
But, according to the community of Alex, the money from the project cannot be accounted for and no work has been done to develop the township.
Senior administrator at the City of Johannesburg Thabiso Maesela told the commission that they have established task teams at different levels of government to work on investigating what was spent and where since the renewal project was launched.
“Just to put the record straight, in terms of the R1.3-billion, it was the value attached to a business plan that was prepared for successful implementation of the project and there was no transfer of money to the City of Johannesburg equivalent to R1.3-billion to implement,” Maesela said.
The inquiry is mandated with investigating whether there are violations of the rights contained in the Bill of Rights as related to persons in Alexandra as well the causes of the protests and how the different spheres of government have dealt with grievances relating to the provision of services in the township.
The inquiry will also look into whether the budget allocated to the renewal project was utilised for the purpose for which it was intended.