South Africa

Johannesburg collapses under crime, corruption, and chaos

Joburg inner city

South Africa’s economic hub, Johannesburg, is crumbling under crime, corruption, and chaos, with constant power and water cuts, deadly explosions and fires, and homeless people having to direct the traffic.

This week, a fire in a five-story building in downtown Johannesburg, which left at least 74 people dead, made global headlines.

The blaze in the illegally occupied building erupted overnight in the central business district and injured over 50 people. The city said the cause of the fire is under investigation.

Gauteng executive council member Lebogang Maile said there are about 100 such “neglected buildings” in Johannesburg that illegal cartels exploit.

“The majority of these structures are controlled by these groups, who persistently collect rent from the occupants,” he said.

The fire came a month after a gas explosion left one person dead and several others injured while also causing tremendous damage to inner city infrastructure.

The City of Johannesburg said it would cost an estimated R178 million to repair the damage caused by the underground explosion.

These are not isolated incidents. Johannesburg’s municipal infrastructure has deteriorated for years because of a lack of maintenance and investment.

The city is now defined by chaos, crime, and corruption, exacerbated by political infighting and incompetent public servants.

At the heart of the dysfunction in Johannesburg is a governance crisis. Since the ANC lost control of the city in 2016, unstable coalitions have resulted in six mayors in four years.

Joburg’s current mayor, Kabelo Gwamanda, had not completed school and did not obtain a matric certificate. He is a member of a party that holds 1% of the municipality’s 270 seats.

Kabelo Gwamanda
Joburg mayor Kabelo Gwamanda

Johannesburg residents are hardest hit by the political instability, incompetence, and corruption among the city’s officials.

Apart from daily load-shedding from Eskom, failing power infrastructure in the city causes blackouts that can last for days.

The same goes for water. Frequent water outages in Johannesburg’s leafy Northern suburb have become the norm, while Orange Farm experienced a 10-day outage in August.

There has also been a spike in serious crimes in the city, with opposition parties warning that it will continue to spiral out of control for as long as money is wasted.

The Johannesburg mayor plans to employ 2,000 crime wardens to help deal with rising crime in the city. However, many experts said it is not enough to stem the tide.

To add insult to injury, many residents were hit with substantial rate increases because of inaccurate property value assessments.

Money not spent on service delivery

Charl Kocks, the principal ratings officer at Ratings Afrika, said local municipalities are in a dire state because money is not going to service delivery.

“Residents are not getting value for their money as most of it is going to areas that are not related to service delivery,” he said.

Kocks said municipal infrastructure is in a dilapidated state. Fixing the infrastructure costs tremendous amounts because there was no frequent maintenance.

In many cases, the infrastructure must be replaced because it has deteriorated to such a level that normal maintenance is no longer possible.

Kocks added that municipalities are in such financial trouble that there is not enough money for infrastructure maintenance and repairs.

“Most municipalities will tell you there is a backlog in services they need to provide, there is a backlog infrastructure provisioning, and that housing is in a dire state,” he said.

Johannesburg inner city

He also questioned Johannesburg’s claim to be a world-class city considering the infrastructure and service delivery collapse.

“There is definitely a mismatch between the perception the city has of itself and what Johannesburg residents see,” he said.

Kocks said it is not an easy situation to turn around as it may involve staff cuts to make money available for infrastructure development.

The situation has deteriorated to such a level that the Democratic Alliance (DA) is calling for new elections to change matters.

“The DA brings this motion in the interest of Joburg residents, who are tired of the political instability that has brought service delivery to its knees,” it said.

“In the 21 months since the election, Joburg has seen five changes of government and four different mayors.”

“The result has been the collapse of service delivery, with the recent explosion of a main thoroughfare in central Joburg serving as a symbol of the city’s decline.”


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