Herman Mashaba: The inconvenient truth about Alexandra

In listening to the news, one could be forgiven for believing that the entire community of Alexandra had marched that day to Sandton. This never happened, writes Herman Mashaba.

The people of Alexandra have many deep-rooted, long-standing and very legitimate grievances about their living environment. There can be no question about this.

I recall on one of my many visits to Alexandra I met a young woman. She showed our delegation to her shack which had no toilet. When I asked her how she survived without a toilet, she said "over many years, I have trained my body to only require a toilet at my place of work." As you can imagine, this response will never leave me.

The events of the past two weeks in Alexandra require a deeper level of analysis than what is offered up by the media, who have been guilty of some very superficial reporting.

READ: Alex shutdown might be only the beginning

When the protests began in Alexandra, we had no prior warning. The organisers of the protests did not inform me that I should be available to receive a memorandum of concerns until the protest began. At the time, I was in Rabie Ridge, another community in Johannesburg with serious problems. I could not leave, and disrespect the people of Rabie Ridge so I sent my MMC for Public Safety. The protestors refused to hand over the memorandum to him.

What became very clear, very quickly, is that this was not a community protest. It was a political protest, led by the ANC and those profiting from the failed Alexandra Renewal Project (ARP).

A few days later, when the protestors marched to our regional offices in Sandton, I was in Vlakfontein initiating a site and service project that would give land ownership and services to dispossessed residents. Again I was expected to leave to receive a memorandum. I refused, because the people of Vlakfontein deserve the attention of government as well.

My office coordinated with the organisers of the protest to determine if they would accept anyone else to receive their memorandum. This was done because, even if a protest is politically orchestrated, our multi-party government must be responsive. They indicated they would accept the city manager, but when the time came they refused once again to hand over their memorandum.

In listening to the news, one could be forgiven for believing that the entire community of Alexandra had marched that day to Sandton. Thousands of people, Alexandra marching in unity. When I saw the photographs I could not believe my eyes. 100 people, a good percentage of whom where ANC councillors in Johannesburg was about the sum of it.

The picture that emerged was that this wasn't about a memorandum or engaging government to find real solutions to real problems. It was a coordinated effort to humiliate those governments no longer run by the ANC. How else do you explain how Ekurhuleni is miraculously free of these #ShutDown Movements, or how ANC branded vehicles are delivering tyres to areas of protest?

What followed were shocking displays by the premier of Gauteng and president of our republic, who went to Alexandra not as government leaders, but ANC leaders. Ignoring my open request for an inter-governmental approach to the people of Alexandra, they opted to use their platforms to stoke fires. Rather than accounting for broken promises, which are a large part of the legitimate grievances in Alexandra, they made new, ridiculous promises to build a million houses. As before, no timeframes, no plans, no budgets.

It is for this reason that I opted for a scheduled IDP session to engage the people of Alexandra. I did this because government must respond to service delivery issues with plans, deliverables, timelines and budgets, not more impressively vague promises.

We set about the task of developing our approach to the IDP session, using our public consultation listening tour processes in October 2018 to ensure the pertinent issues were being addressed.

Our arrival at the IDP session, made one thing clear. A group of 40-50 protestors in a hall of 600 people were not going to allow the discussion to take place. They asked to hand over their memorandum, which I accepted, affording the protestors a platform to spew their political vile for a while. While the protestors returned to their disruptive singing, I had plenty of time to read their memorandum. Every single issue on that memorandum was covered by way of strong solutions offered by the multi-party government in our presentation that, clearly, was not going to happen.

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When the meeting was eventually called off, I could not believe what I read in the media. Apparently I was pelted with paper and bottles. I was unaware of that, I think I would have noticed. Apparently it was the community of Alexandra who booed me off stage. Well, I never got to the podium to speak, and the booing protestors numbered 40-50 in a venue filled with 600 people, most of whom wanted answers to serious challenges in their lived experiences. It's quite ridiculous.

When I announced a forensic investigation into the ARP, I came across a document. A forensic audit dated December 2010, looking into a small component of the ARP expenditure, which found fraudulent and corrupt over-billing by service providers to the City of Johannesburg to the tune of R25m. The report calls for a series of actions, including a forensic audit of the entire ARP, which was never done. Spectacular when former mayor Parks Tau says there was nothing wrong with the expenditure in the ARP.

Something that does require attention are the organisers of this protest themselves. The truth has begun to come out from the City's forensic investigation. The leaders of the #AlexShutDown movement are the directors of a company called the Ditlodi Community Development Cooperative. These individuals left a company, Altitude Pty Ltd, who was contracted to provide community liaison services for the ARP and started the Ditlodi Community Development Cooperative. They were then awarded a contract to continue this work from April 2015, earning around R161 000 per month.

In February 2019, the Johannesburg Development Agency gave notice that this contract would not be extended beyond June 2019 as the funding had ceased from provincial government. It is therefore no coincidence that the directors of the Ditlodi Community Development Cooperative are the ring-leaders of the protests in Alexandra. It has nothing to do with the genuine needs of the people of Alexandra, but the extent to which the ARP has funded politically connected people at the expense of service delivery. How else could you explain the Ditlodi Community Development Cooperative receiving money in 2019 for the ARP ground to a halt in 2006?

The real tragedy about the situation is how the voices of the ordinary people of Alexandra are being silenced by a small minority of people, who have overseen the looting of funds meant to benefit Alexandra. However, it is a travesty, apparently going unnoticed by the media, that the very same ANC that broke promises, failed to deliver and looted with impunity, are the ones silencing the people of Alexandra.

The people of Alexandra need to voice their very legitimate concerns, and government needs to respond with plans, deliverables and budgets.

- Mashaba is executive mayor of the City of Johannesburg.

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