City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality: A future built on the lessons of the past

Last month came official confirmation that the City of Johannesburg is cool! The endorsement may have a light-hearted ring to it, but the underlying message is one that the city’s governance can be truly proud of. Tourism is one of the city’s key economic drivers; through its 2040 Strategy, Johannesburg seeks to build a growing economy, with tourism playing a significant role.

Jburg01Yet the pride comes not only from the achievement of marketers, but from the perception of a city with a long history of struggle, injustice, heartache and tragedy.

The judgement on Johannesburg was made by the city’s millions of international visitors, who gave feedback for the latest MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index, which concluded that the City of Gold is now the second-most popular destination on the African continent. A projected 2.5 million international visitors are expected to visit Joburg this year and are anticipated to spend about R27.8-billion, an increase of 8.1 per cent compared with last year’s figures.

The significance of tourism hits home when one looks at the task assigned to local government, with poverty, unemployment and crime providing major challenges in a region still developing infrastructure against a backdrop of economic downturn.

Joburg is South Africaʼs largest and wealthiest city, accounting for roughly 16 per cent of the countryʼs GDP; and it is the headquarters to and hosts the nationʼs largest corporations, financial institutions, media houses, law firms, the Johannesburg Securities Exchange and many other organisations. Among the revered names to have made Johannesburg home are: Standard Bank, ABSA (Barclays), First National Bank, Transnet, Anglo American, Billiton, The Star newspaper, the Chamber of Mines, and Credit Suisse.

The first post-apartheid Johannesburg City Council was created in 1995. The council adopted the slogan “One City, One Taxpayer” in order to highlight its primary goal of addressing unequal tax revenue distribution. To this end, revenue from wealthy, traditionally white areas would help pay for services needed in poorer, black areas.

At that time the City Council was divided into four regions, each with a substantially autonomous local regional authority that was to be overseen by a central metropolitan council.

Jburg02In 1999, Johannesburg appointed a city manager in order to reshape the city’s ailing financial situation. The manager, together with the Municipal Council, drew up a blueprint called “Igoli 2002”. This was a three-year plan that called upon the government to sell non-core assets, restructure certain utilities, and required that all others become self-sufficient. The plan took the city from near insolvency to an operating surplus of Rand 153 million (USD 23.6 million).

The core of Igoli 2002 was to restructure Metro Gas, Rand Airport, and some sports stadiums as stand-alone corporate entities. The city bus service, the Johannesburg Zoo, the Civic Theatre, the Fresh Produce Market, and the city’s property holdings were turned into corporations with the city as the single shareholder. Each was run as a business, with management hired on performance contracts. Today the city is a thriving metropolis while the municipality covers an area of 1,645 square kilometres, stretching from Orange Farm in the south to Midrand in the north and is home to just under 4 million people.

In South Africa each province determines the structure of local government in its region. Gauteng province is run by the African National Congress and has opted for an executive mayor system. The newly unified city is ruled by Johannesburg’s second Executive Mayor, Mpho Parks Tau, who replaced Amos Mosondo in May 2011. Following his election to the position, Mayor Parks Tau, the former city finance boss, said that transformation was at the top of the list of priorities for his term in office.

In his State of the City address speech this March, the Mayor looked ahead under the theme: “Committing to a promising future: A city that is resilient, sustainable and liveable.” Mayor Parks Tau, who spent many of his formative years in West Orlando, Soweto, gave a speech that addressed many of the challenges that the modern and future Johannesburg faces, while not forgetting the lessons of the past:

The city has grown from a small prospecting settlement with people coming from all over South and Southern Africa and the world. Johannesburg is the largest city in South Africa, with a current population of 3.8 million; the cityʼs households are projected to increase from 1.3 to 1.5 million and its population to 4.1 million by 2015. All over the world, songs and poems have been written about Johannesburg. Many of these capture historical moments, joys and sadness about our city.

Ours is a history rooted in the creation of life, in the birth of humanity, rich biodiversity, rich mineral wealth, but sadly, it is also a history of racism, racial discrimination, separate development and sexism. Ours is a past of separate local authorities. It is also a history of struggle for a single tax base and integrated local authorities. It is about the historic moments of negotiating in the local government chamber to building integrated metropolitan areas, finally realised during the local government elections in the year 2000.

Ours is also a future of hope. A future of prosperity, of non-racialism, non-sexism and democracy. It is a vision to build a society fundamentally different from the one we have inherited – a society where your ability to achieve, your talent, potential and skill is not inhibited by race, gender or class.

While the new democratic South Africa has ensured political participation, created access to economic participation and enabled the freedom of movement of people, the transformation has not been equally beneficial for all. This is mirrored within the city. Thus, while Johannesburg has changed politically, transformation from a spatial, socio-economic perspective remains a dream to be fulfilled.

Jburg03We inherited a city that was deeply divided along racial lines. People were excluded from amenities, from basic services and from participation in the mainstream of economic and social activities based on the colour of their skin. The city of Johannesburg now exists as a single metropolitan municipality. The establishment of the uni-city after the 2000 election was a key milestone of the transformation process that began in the early nineties.”

The modern Johannesburg boasts stable finances and was the first municipality to tap into the South African Capital Markets. Despite the global economic crisis the city has stable finances, well demonstrated by the success of the five municipal bonds it has issued, which made Joburg a pioneer in the capital market funding of municipalities in South Africa.

That financing has been put to good use, as many areas of the city were in need of regeneration, as the Mayor reflected in his speech:

The Inner City of Johannesburg faced, what one can describe, as accelerated degeneration from the early 1990s and today we can celebrate the turn-around as demonstrated by Newtown, Brickfields, Marshalltown and the Art on Main in Doornfontein.

The inner city development undertaken is making a significant contribution to Johannesburg’s economy, with real estate investors moving into an area once notorious for crime. Among the developments regenerating the area is the Carlton Centre, more than 95 per cent utilised by Transnet and SARS and many other organisation, who occupy small office blocks.

Housing remains a big priority for the Municipality, which has delivered on a number of projects including the development of Cosmo City, Pennyville, Tsutsumani and more.

The housing provision is of better quality, providing more options and is located closer to work. These are just typical housing projects but demonstrate our continued commitment to building sustainable human settlements and creating a better life for all. This has gone a long way to change the landscape of Joburg,” stated Mayor Parks Tau.

Infrastructure of course remains an ongoing requirement for much of the country and Johannesburg is no different. Whilst more work is urgently needed, the city has already made significant inroads, as the Mayor continued:

More people than ever before now have access to basic services; water and sanitation, electricity and waste removal. Over 30,000 households in the informal settlements have been provided access to basic water in the form of communal standpipes and over 30,000 households were provided access to basic sanitation.

We have also increased the Cityʼs coverage to 98 per cent for basic water and 91 per cent for basic sanitation. Most households in the city now have access to electricity. The city has also been able to deliver free basic services to the poor and indigent communities. This includes 10 kilo litres of water and 100 kilo watts per hour of electricity per month, as well as the related rebate on sanitation and rates.”

Another area of big development has been the public transport system – which has not only delivered improved services, but has been sympathetic to environmental issues: “ Rea Vaya has indeed not just been an ordinary transport intervention. It is about the use of alternative energy, connecting communities across the city and helping to integrate the transport system,” the Mayor described.

It also provides quality, cheap, reliable, fast, safe and clean transport. It is also about the broad-based black economic empowerment in a modern transport system which has empowered taxi operators to be integrated in bus transport business. Finally, it is also about modernising our transport system.”

Further efforts have been made to improve health, particularly in the area of HIV, while work continues to mitigate social exclusion for all ethnic communities. One of the biggest undertakings is the redevelopment of Soweto, as the Mayor proudly explained:

We boast of World Class facilities, like the Orlando Stadium. Soweto has been host to the FIFA concert that featured the likes of Shakira and Freshly Ground. It is in this same stadium that the Bulls played against the Crusaders on 23 May 2010, in what was the first ever foray by first class rugby into historically black townships.

Sowetans today do not have to leave for the suburbs on their wedding day to find a picturesque spot for wedding photos, as they have well established parks like Dorothy Nyembe and Thokoza Park in their own area.

Soweto is now a melting pot of South African cultures and has developed its own sub-cultures – especially for the young. It is now also the place to be when you want to wine, dine, be entertained and participate in sport. It is now a welcoming place where people mingle and interact in the streets.”

Jburg04The enormous investment programme across the city has been made with economic legacy in mind. Not only are the infrastructure improvements enhancing lives through say, better water supplies or transport links, they are encouraging investment and business to previously disadvantaged areas. “The massive investment in infrastructure must leave more than just power stations, rail-lines, dams and roads. It must industrialise the country, generate skills and boost much needed job creation,” Mayor Parks Tau commented.

We have identified key trade, manufacturing, construction, transport and tourism areas as engines for growths and we will be targeting labour-absorbing activities as well as promote innovation through “green economy” initiatives. We will, over the next 10 years, invest over R100 billion in economic and social infrastructure.”

So what will that investment deliver? Mayor Parks Tau has his own image of what 2040 will look like:

We will be listening to new songs praising our new urban landscape and celebrating citizensʼ daily experiences as they interact with the Constitution Hill, Mandela Bridge, Ghandi Square, Soweto Theatre, Soccer City, Mary Fitzgerald Square, Pennyville, Soweto, Cosmo City, Maponya Mall, Melrose Arch and others. Furthermore, we will celebrate our new urban nodes such as Midrand, Wilgehuewel, Ruimsig, Honeydew, Sandton, Fourways, Greater Randburg, Strijdom Park as part of a truly growing metro region. The benefits of the Gautrain and Rea Vaya BRT, connecting us with the Aerotropolis in Ekurhuleni and Tshwane – the capital city, will contribute to integrating the entire Gauteng City Region.

As former president Thabo Mbeki said, “The future is formed and derives its first impulse in the womb of the present.” Therefore let us all roll up our sleeves today and work together to build the future – resilient, sustainable and liveable communities!”