How the City of Johannesburg’s future is being forged

Private Property South Africa
Kerry Dimmer

City of Johannesburg (COJ) Mayor, Herman Mashaba, talked exclusively to Private Property, about the value and growth of the inner city’s residential spaces, supporting services, and the path towards rejuvenation.

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• When you took office, you promised to rejuvenate the city centre. Have you achieved what you hoped?

In the past three years, we have been able to achieve great things in the inner city. This year we welcomed a group of developers and investors who will realise, in forthcoming months, 24 developments in the inner city. The R20-billion expected investment to come from these developments have significantly invigorated the Inner City Rejuvenation Programme, which began in October 2017 with the release of city-owned properties to the private sector.

This is indeed the biggest number of properties awarded simultaneously in the City’s history. This is also the largest number of mixed-use private sector developments focusing on residential and student accommodation being facilitated by the city at once, most of which will be rentals.

• You place high value on private/public partnerships. How have these played out in terms of residential spaces in the city?

Most of our inner city prop releases are residential and/or mixed use residential. We have received good response to our public calls for proposals and we see established players as well as reputable newcomers submitted good proposals, which is encouraging.

• How does rejuvenating old buildings/sites into modern apartments increase economic value for cities?

Rejuvenating old buildings not only creates employment but it provides accommodation for a young work force. Provided that the rejuvenation is supported by enhanced services such as boosted police numbers, better garbage and litter removal, then it also has a multiplier effect. It will inspire further and more diversified investment in the inner city.

• What support structures are required to ensure residents holistic wellbeing?

As much as private sector investment is needed in this regard, the city has also focused its efforts on increased safety, expanding its clinics and rehabilitation centres, and expanding Rea Vaya routes to ensure better quality of life to residents of Johannesburg.

Extended operating hours at the city’s clinics have been in effect for 22 of our clinics, effectively allowing more people healthcare treatment after hours and on weekends.

Soon after taking office, we welcomed 1 500 Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD) trainees. These trainees will soon be officers that patrol our city, doubling the current force on the ground. Furthermore, despite the R170-billion infrastructure backlog we inherited, the city is ensuring that it maintains existing infrastructure adequately.

• What are the most visible, significant differences in the city, since you took office?

I am proud to have been able to see a complete turnaround in the JMPD. These brave men and women have become the pride of our city and through relaunching and boosting various units within JMPD and with the appointment of 1 500 more officers, we will see an even better and more effective JMPD in the future.

Furthermore, our zero tolerance toward corruption has led to the discovery of over R20-billion lost due to over 4 000 fraud cases. I want to assure our residents that no crime will go unpunished in the City and that the rule of law must always prevail. This is why we have strengthened the Group Forensic and Investigation Services (GFIS) to protect residents and their money from individuals who do not have their best interest at heart.

• You dropped the slogan 'Joburg- a world-class city' - why?

For any city, or country for that matter to work efficiently, the rule of law must prevail. Unfortunately, the COJ has been a breeding ground of corruption for too long, making it far too easy for unethical behaviour to continue. Criminals have also become comfortable, brazenly attacked our residents day or night. This, in my mind, is not the world-class city Johannesburg was meant to be. But through our various initiatives and by playing open cards with the public, we are slowly but surely turning the economic powerhouse of South Africa into a working, safe and sustainable city.

• What advantages does the city have in this current depressed economy, with a relative sluggish property market?

There are roughly 500 properties/land parcels identified for release. The goal is to release between 50 to 100 a year. This means that the next five to eight years will be taken up with annual releases. The turnaround time for a property to be developed is roughly 18 months.

• How many tenders are yet to be announced for inner-city housing developments, and how many have been approved, what can we expect the skyline to look like?

To date there have been 27 awards made. Submissions for tenders for the next phase will close at the end of July and adjudication will follow from there. The skyline will remain largely unchanged under the property release programme unless developers apply for demolition. So far, 154 inner city properties have already been made available to the private sector for development.

• President Ramaphosa wants to see a new ‘Smart City’ in SA’s future. What are your thoughts on this?

South African cities as they presently stand face deep infrastructure challenges that have largely gone unchecked over successive ANC-administrations. Indeed, just in the COJ, our infrastructure backlog was allowed to rise to R170-billion which has massive implications for the state of our infrastructure. In the COJ, we are steadily working to reverse this legacy.

In light of this, though the President’s sentiments may be noble, our immediate focus should be addressing the very real and pressing challenges faced by our cities right now. Getting the basics right first and ensuring quality service delivery at the coalface of local government will naturally place us on the path to expanding on those services – including developing more technologically advanced cities and yes, perhaps even building the President’s new Smart City.

But first, we must bring change to communities and cities that are already in need.

• How 'Smart' is Johannesburg in terms of technology?

There are various initiatives throughout the city taking full advantage of technological advances. Some examples:

  1. The installation of the Smart City Traffic Signals System is being finalised. The system is operational, providing the technicians with hot spots and traffic signals information that requires attention. This will lead to proactive maintenance for troublesome intersections.

  2. The COJ has begun to roll out an Electronic Health Record (EHR) system called eHealth@joburg in the 81 primary health care facilities.

  3. On the 14th of May, the COJ launched the IOC Reaction Unit – a team of 80 dedicated JMPD officers focused on combatting reported daily street crimes in the inner city, which they do through the monitoring of city-owned CCTV cameras, 24 hours a day.

  4. In Dec 2018, the Director of Public Prosecutions granted approval for the Evidentiary Breath Alcohol Test (EBAT) to be used as evidence in court against drunken drivers. The EBAT machine was launched on 21 Dec 2018. These machines will increase the success rate of the conviction within a reasonable period.

• What do you still wish to achieve before your term of office ends?

When we were walking into office, we promised to bring progressive change to the City of Johannesburg. That is the work we are currently seized with through our Diphetogo programme which I announced over a year ago. Through this initiative, we hope to bring change to communities by addressing their basic service delivery needs and indeed, responding to the needs of communities by actually listening to them.

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