Mandy Wiener3 May 2024 | 4:49

MANDY WIENER: We’re tired of being 'resilient' in Johannesburg

Mayor Kabelo Gwamanda presented the resilient (eish!) residents of Johannesburg with a rose-tinted version of reality in his State of the City address.

MANDY WIENER: We’re tired of being 'resilient' in Johannesburg

City of Johannesburg mayor Kabelo Gwamanda. Picture: Supplied/City of Johannesburg

If ever you wanted a visual representation of the dysfunction of the City of Johannesburg, it was the technicians rerouting the electricity supply to the Council Chamber on Thursday morning so that Mayor Kabelo Gwamanda could present residents with a rose-tinted version of reality in his State of the City address. 

There was no power supply to large swathes of the city because vandals had stolen 600 kilograms of electric cables from a tunnel under the M1 highway. 

So, City Power technicians had to back-feed connections to provide power to the chamber. But parts of the building were not electrified so generators were brought in, along with portable toilets and tents and journalists struggled to even make their way into the venue because doors couldn’t be opened. 

You can’t make this stuff up. The irony is laughable. It’s also incredibly sad and frustrating. The mayor did not even acknowledge or mention the fire on the M1 or the cable theft during his speech. 

Gwamanda, a representative of the one-seat Al Jama-ah party, is in power through a coalition agreement with the ANC. During his tenure, the city has experienced the Usindiso fire disaster, and the Lilian Ngoyi Street blast, amongst other infrastructure failures such as repeated and prolonged water and electricity cuts.

Yet despite this, Gwamanda seemed to present a distorted reality on Thursday morning. Of course, we are in an election month and there is much at stake for Gwamanda and his coalition partners and it is in their interests to highlight the successes of the government. 

Under the theme of “Building a stable and resilient city government in service of the people”, Gwamanda emphasized ‘resilience’ as his key theme, praising the resilience of the city’s leadership and its residents. 

Mr. Mayor, we have resilience fatigue in Joburg. But mostly we have resilience fatigue because of the dysfunction of the city’s administration. 

“Beneath this tapestry of bustling streets and impressive high-rise buildings lies a profound reality – Johannesburg is not simply a city; it represents resilience and exemplifies the human potential to rise above obstacles and prosper through adversity,” said the Mayor. 

I would argue that beneath the tapestry of bustling streets and high-rise buildings, the reality is service tunnels that are the site of flagrant lawlessness, where vandals stalk and steal the cables that are the lifeblood of our city, where illegal miners seek refuge and hollow out our country and our economy. The ‘profound reality’ is that under the streets and buildings is crumbling infrastructure leaving us with shaky foundations. 

In his warped reality, the Mayor said that Johannesburg's commitment to improving the quality of life for all its residents is demonstrated by the provision of basic services. “Water is accessible to 98.3% of households; electricity is available to 94.1%; sanitation is provided to 93%; and refuse removal is extended to 90.5%; ensuring that every part of the city has the basic amenities required for a dignified existence.”

What he failed to mention was the inconsistency of these services. How regularly is water accessible to 98.3% of residents for instance? Regardless of loadshedding being on hold, electricity is still not in constant supply in some areas. 

To his credit, he did go on to acknowledge ‘the water challenges that we have recently faced’. 

“As a City, we are faced with a rapid rise in water demand that is threatening the sustainability of our water supply and straining the capacity of our systems. Our water use per capita far exceeds that which is the standard in developed and thriving cities of the world. There is an urgent need to control and manage demand in order to ensure we create reliability and sustainability in our supply environment.”

Gwamanda concluded his address with a poetic and philosophical ode to resilience. 

“Scholars have defined resilience as ‘having the capacity to persist in the face of change and to continue to develop with ever-changing environments’,” he said and then finally, “Together let us build a stable and resilient City government in service of the People!”

Resilience is not what we need right now. It is mature political leadership that delivers services to the people. High quality and consistent services. 

Instead, what chunks of the CBD and surrounding areas will have this week is no power to run their businesses and their lives because of the city’s inability to deal with crime and lawlessness.