Herman Mashaba: We need a government which prioritises the pro-poor agenda

2019-10-28 23:45

To redress apartheid  we have to tackle all forms of inequality and support small business, writes Herman Mashaba

In 1994, most South Africans recognised the opportunity they had to build a rainbow nation.

Skip forward 25 years, and decades of failure, arrogance and corruption have robbed our country of what it could have been in 2019.

South Africa does not just have to redress 300 years of colonial and apartheid rule. We also have to redress the past 25 years of ANC governments.

One story, above all else, paints this picture for me.

In 2016, on a visit to Alexandra, I met a young woman. She took my delegation to see where she lived.

I noticed there was no toilet facility and asked her how she lived like this.

Her response still haunts me: “I have trained my body to only require the toilet when I am at my place of work.”

This is why we have to recognise that South Africa is the most unequal society in the world today.

We cannot afford to dwell on this with a sense of defeatism; we have to fix it.

When I took office in Johannesburg in August 2016, I committed the multiparty government to a pro-poor agenda.

This does not mean we must choose between the rich and the poor. That kind of thinking with a budgeted R65 billion city would be simplistic.

What it means is that we have to be part of a project, rich and poor, which both recognises that the status quo is not sustainable and supports efforts to remedy the situation.

My experiences in meeting with South Africans and Joburgers across the spectrum is that they all understand this.

It is, in fact, politicians who do not.

Read: Alex inquiry seeks to find a solution for disgruntled residents

This is why we set about changing the work of government in Johannesburg.

We cut back on non-essential, wasteful expenditure and reprioritised billions towards those who needed it most.

We were able to increase budgets for informal settlement upgrades tenfold in a short time.

Now, more than 10 informal settlements are being electrified each year.

The city is on track for every household in an informal settlement to have access to toilets and piped water.

Part of redressing the legacy of the past means tackling our spatial inequality, which has forced people to live on the periphery of our city and spend 50% of their household income on public transport.

The inner city project is key – we have to move away from housing people far away from opportunities.

It is all about taking people out of the abusive relationship with criminal slumlords and getting the private sector to convert these buildings into low-cost, affordable housing of a world standard.

For this, they will end up paying much the same as they were paying slumlords to live in conditions not fit for a human being.

To date, with an estimated 643 bad buildings, 139 properties have been awarded to developers to cater for the missing middle – those who are too rich to qualify for free government housing but cannot get bonds.

It will generate R32 billion in investment, create over 12 000 construction jobs and house more than 7 000 families.

Part of redressing the legacy of the past means tackling our spatial inequality, which has forced people to live on the periphery of our city and spend 50% of their household income on public transport
Herman Mashaba

We have established substance abuse facilities in communities where the legacy of hopelessness has generated terrible addiction levels.

And we have extended operating hours for clinics, 26 of them to date, so that those who are seeking work opportunities do not have to choose between work and healthcare.

We have changed the city’s policy of water allowances that used to offer six kilolitres of water to everyone, rich and poor.

Now, only those below a certain household income can receive this benefit. They receive up to 15 kilolitres of free water every month.

We have initiated a pilot project to offer pensioners and persons with disabilities free bus rides across the city.

Our approach to insourcing security guards and cleaners has brought dignity to more than 7 000 families.

By removing the abusive tenderpreneur “middle-men” and employing these individuals directly, they earn 50% to 100% more, and enjoy employment benefits.

While I am proud of these measures, the reality is that we need a growing economy that creates jobs and takes more families out of poverty.

We have opened opportunity centres in Joburg, offering incubation services and supporting small business owners.

Small businesses must be the future of our economic growth and job creation.

We need a government which does not steal public money, one which prioritises the pro-poor agenda and partners with its citizenry and the private sector to wage war on inequality.

In doing so, we will achieve the kind of change that will deliver the society we all imagined in 1994.

Mashaba is the mayor of Joburg

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February 16 2020