Former US president Ronald Reagan, who was saintly compared with the current incumbent, said: “If you’re explaining, you’re losing.”
Helen Zille received similar advice, which she occasionally ignored. Sometimes it is necessary to explain. Now is such a time.
People want to know what on earth is happening in Johannesburg. Where is the change expected after last year’s elections?
Parks and road verges seem scruffier. Taxis still drive us crazy. So, too, do faulty traffic signals and potholes. Many residents still have problems with electricity, water, billing queries, “displaced people”, and so on.
Ward councillors bear the brunt of these complaints. Folks rightly expect more from a DA-led city council. What’s up? Let me explain.
Size matters. Johannesburg, with a R56.4 billion budget, is a huge ship to turn around.
Since democratic South Africa’s first local elections, Johannesburg has been run by the ANC.
Understandably, ANC appointees can be found, in varying degree, in every department and municipal entity. This is not to ignore good, professional officials who are dedicated to serving the public.
Overall, the ship has not been well run. For example, perusal of the auditor-general’s report tabled in council last week shows unauthorised expenditure of more than R1 billion has not been investigated.
In addition, 32 officials failed to disclose personal interest or that of a close family member, partner or associate in contracts; and 80 suppliers submitted false declarations of interest worth nearly R1 billion. And so on.
There have been arrests, suspensions and dismissals, with more to come.
Right now, the DA-led administration is saddled with an ANC budget, much of which has been spent, or misspent. Budget difficulties are a factor, but not the only one, in service-delivery shortfalls.
There have also been official and unofficial strikes. Some employees don’t want to see the DA-led team succeed. This element should not be overstated, but it exists.
Clean-up actions will eventually free up more money to spend on improving lives. One example is the reintegration of municipal-owned entities such as City Power, Joburg Water and Pikitup back into the city. Other departments are also top-heavy with highly paid, unproductive executives.
The skills audit ordered by mayor Herman Mashaba will produce savings by ensuring the right people are in the right jobs. Corruption-busting measures continue.
Mashaba’s team also inherited high debt, close to the 45% legal threshold, plus 33% unemployment and huge infrastructure backlogs.
The DA-led coalition’s influence will increase after the adjustment budget at the end of this month, and a full budget in May.
To pass these items in council, and give financial impetus to the drive for improvement, the mayor needs cross-party support, including from the EFF, which is not in coalition.
Meanwhile, the ANC strives ceaselessly to reclaim the purse strings.
Are there problems in Joburg? Definitely. Can we overcome them? Yes, we can, if we focus on that which uplifts us all.