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Alex inquiry seeks to find a solution for disgruntled residents

2019-05-15 17:19

All spheres of government are needed to find a lasting solution to the issue of housing in Alexandra township, north of Johannesburg.

These were the sentiments expressed of Gauteng MEC for Human Settlements Uhuru Moilaoa, who appeared at the Alexandra Inquiry at East Bank Hall on Wednesday. He also said that the whole of Alexandra needs to be reconstructed.

“The country needs reconstruction in Alexandra but as the outgoing MEC I don’t have all the answers,” Moiloa said.

The inquiry, which began on Monday and has been looking into the issues which were raised by protesting residents during April’s total shutdown, has so far been scrutinising the problems which the people of Alex are faced with, many of whom have pointed fingers at government for failing them.

Earlier this year, the two-week protest prompted President Cyril Ramaphosa to step in when he visited the township and promised to address their concerns which ranged from waste removal to housing.

The inquiry is a joint initiative between The South African Human Rights Commission and the Office of the Public Protector, and has so far seen tensions escalate between residents and those appearing before the inquiry.

Phindile Baleni, general manager in the office of Gauteng premier David Makhura, failed to show up to the inquiry on Tuesday. Gauteng provincial manager for the SAHRC, Buang Jones, said on Tuesday that her failure to show up at the inquiry, twice, meant that they would be subpoenaing her.

“The inquiry panel will recommend that the director-general is subpoenaed as her conduct clearly demonstrated she is not willing to cooperate,” he said.

The inquiry was set up following the aftermath of the Alexandra shutdown which took place in April, when frustrated residents took to the streets in violent protest against a lack of service delivery and accountability by the City of Johannesburg.

Among the complaints during the shutdown were:

- Rising unemployment rates;

- Lawlessness;

- Crime; and

- The mushrooming of illegal structures.

One of the most contentious issues is the overcrowding of the township, with a population of more than 500 000. At the helm of this is the alleged failed R1.3 billion renewal project which was launched in 2001, and according to the City of Johannesburg, was aimed “to improve the physical, social and economic environment of Alexandra, thereby instilling a culture of civic pride.

Its targets include increased local employment, a healthier environment, affordable and sustainable services, cutting crime by 50%, and upgraded and additional housing in conjunction with de-densification in some areas.”

But 18 years later and the same issues which were promised to be delivered through the project have not materialised, with many questioning where the money has gone to. 

The city maintains that the R1.3 billion allocation was never received by the city, and that an investigation was being done to scrutinise what monies were actually received and what was done with the money.

“There was never a real transfer of money. It was the value attached to the housing plan but there was no transfer of money to the City of Johannesburg,” Housing Director Thabo Maisela said.

When City Press spoke to residents on May 8, when the country’s sixth general elections took place, many felt sidelined by the government and saw no use in casting their vote as they didn’t foresee any tangible change being enforced in the township, a sentiment that was widely expressed throughout the April protests.

READ: Residents vs empty promises: Did the Alex Shutdown change their vote?

“Our streets are dirty and they smell so voting is a waste of my time because once those very same people I vote for come into power, they don’t give us the attention they needed us to give them when they needed our votes. So it is useless,” Buntu Tsotso said, who didn’t cast his vote.

Despite the criticism, City Manager Ndivhoniswani Lukhwareni said that the City of Johannesburg was doing all that it could to provide services to the residents of Alex, and on Tuesday presented updates to certain initiatives which was run by the city to prove that work was being done.

“As you can see, there are other projects that are happening there, it’s not like there are no projects. I wouldn’t say it’s a neglected area,” he said, as he presented a slideshow of work which was being done to the inquiry.

With waste removal being a major issue for residents, Lukhwareni was probed by Alexandra Fitzgerald, SAHRC senior legal advisor, if waste removal was something that the city prioritised.

Lukhwareni said that waste collection was done on a daily basis, but that not every area was serviced on each day, and that missing one day meant a backlog in the collection of waste.

“We have a dilemma regarding waste collection and our dilemma is that we cannot manage the waste backlog if we miss a day of waste collection.”

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May 19 2019