Joburg’s digital economy – a boom or a bust?

Thirty-seven percent of South Africa’s population is missing out on the progress of a digital economy because they do not have an internet connection.

There is a digital skills gap in South Africa resulting in the outsourcing of over 300 000 jobs and the loss of R8,5 billion in export revenue each year. This is according to Derek Davey.

South Africa is one of Africa’s top five economic hubs according to Ventures Africa, but does the City of Johannesburg (CoJ) have what it takes to bridge the digital skills divide and become one of the continent’s leading tech hubs with a thriving digital economy?

Before we can dive into this question, we first need to understand what the digital economy is about.

According to Bukht and Heeks, the term digital economy simply refers to the effect that digital technologies have on economic activities. These digital technologies include but are not limited to, digital infrastructure and media platforms. Within the digital economy, people produce and consume goods and services obtained from these digital technologies.

Head of Digital Skills at Wits University’s Tshimologong Precinct, Carol Jaji, describes people as being “users embedded at the core of bringing together economic activities.”

The digital economy, which is mainly supported by information and communication technologies (ICTs) – defined as “a diverse set of technological tools and resources used to transmit, store, create, share or exchange information” by Unesco – is the driving force behind economic growth in both developing and developed countries.

A study conducted by the World Economic Forum in 2015 found that emerging markets are experiencing a growth of 15 to 25% yearly in the digital economy. Furthermore, the WEF’s 2023 Digital Transformation Framework states that digitally enabled technologies and business models will carry approximately 70% of the world’s economy over the next ten years. It is therefore essential that all economic hubs worldwide adapt to the digital transformation, considering its potential to offer a new form of economic growth and employment opportunities.

There are five pillars proposed by the World Bank that can help countries benefit from digitalisation, and be fully engaged in the digital economy according to a report compiled by the Brookings Institution on the digital divide in Africa.

The first pillar is about access to the digital infrastructure needed so that people can engage in digital activities. For the digital economy to succeed, there needs to be high-quality and affordable internet connectivity.

Approximately 37 % of SA’s population have no access to the internet according to the IOL. Furthermore, a survey conducted by the 2023 Digital Quality of Life Index on 121 countries making up 92 % of the world’s population ranks South Africa 63rd in internet quality and 52nd in internet affordability. This shows that the country still has a long way to go before it can achieve the high-quality and affordable internet connectivity needed for the success of a digital economy.

The second one relates to digital entrepreneurship which shows the strength of the digital economy through entrepreneurs’ ability to easily find new products and work opportunities in the digital sector. This is determined by the access to venture capital and credit.

In the past five years, the South Africa Investment Conference (SAIC), companies have pledged a total of R200 billion in the country’s digital services and ICT sectors. In addition, the National Skills Fund (NSF) will allocate R800 million to fund digital skills training for unemployed youth. This was announced in one of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s weekly newsletters.

Digital finance is the third component of digitalisation. It measures people’s access to financial services that enable them to conduct digital transactions thus enhancing financial inclusion. 

The fourth determining factor is access to digital public platforms where the government can digitally provide public services and engage with citizens.

Lastly, there is the digital skills component which looks into the skills and education capacity necessary for an active digital ecosystem. Countries need to prioritise equipping their people with digital skills because digital technologies can only be useful if people are taught how to use digital infrastructure and platforms. A digitally competent workforce and government will not only allow the digital economy to flourish but will also enable an efficient transition into digitalisation.

According to the Department of Economic Development, it “ has two main areas of responsibility; it is tasked with ensuring that the right environmental framework and initiatives are put in place to foster economic growth and job creation in the province. Secondly, it is responsible for ensuring that sound financial management policies and structures are in place.”

Various policies and strategies have been implemented through the work of the department’s units, activities and programmes to achieve this.

As one of the department’s key performance areas, the Sustainable Employment Facilitation (SEF) directorate aims to decrease youth unemployment by providing skills development training programmes for youth with various skill levels. To facilitate these programmes, the department has entered into partnerships with private and public companies, other government departments, and educational institutions.

The SEF directorate states that the skills development training programmes subunit aims to:

  • Obtain internal and external funding sources
  • Have precise training records and constantly check training progress
  • Make sure that they look for the appropriate training providers
  • Track the city’s training interventions and compile annual reports from the COO’s office training and development forum
  • Have a database registration for opportunity seekers that can connect unemployed individuals to public and private companies

Wits Vuvuzela tried contacting the department of economic development to access the data on the progress of the policies mentioned above but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

In an attempt to keep up with the rapidly growing digital economy, the city has partnered with organisations such as WeThinkCode and MTN to offer various digital literacy and e-learning programmes designed to train the youth in digital skills.

Since its establishment in 2015, WeThinkCode has had 500 graduates, with 93 % of whom have found full-time employment. MTN on the other hand, has enrolled 900 unemployed youth throughout the country into its “Digital Skills for Digital Jobs” programme.

“Our ‘Digital Skills for Digital Jobs’ programme will enhance the link between digital skills training and demand for jobs”, says Nompilo Morafo, who is the Chief Sustainability and Corporate Affairs Officer at MTN.

Given its growing penetration into the city’s economic activity, measuring the digital economy has become an essential process, which is unfortunately flawed considering the lack of available data sets. There is not a lot of data on the country’s digital economy (let alone of Johannesburg) and the little that is available is not of the best quality. The city’s directorates acknowledge the growth of the digital economy but the exact size is not clearly outlined.

However, considering the evident gap in the digital sector and the pace at which digital skills training programmes are being facilitated, it is clear that more partnerships need to be formed as the government cannot tackle the 60% youth unemployment rate on its own.

Homelessness a hot potato for the city and NGOs

Various city departments and non-profit organizations in Johannesburg have become entangled in a cycle of shifting responsibility and pointing fingers at each other when issues of homelessness are brought up.

“All that glitters is not gold” is a well known aphorism that conveys the idea that appearances can be deceiving, thus some things are too good to be true. The city of Johannesburg, often dubbed the City of Gold, serves as a vivid illustration of this saying as it grapples with significant disparities stemming from political instability, macro-economic challenges, and persistent social problems.

A typical morning in the bustling streets of Johannesburg is characterised by the noise of car horns, as frustrated taxi drivers weave through traffic, disrupting the flow of traffic. For those who call the pavements on either side of the road home, this commotion is their unwelcome alarm, while the early risers are already up, sifting through garbage bins in search of food or items to exchange for a few coins at recycling centres. This is the daily reality of a homeless person in the city, however, it becomes even more daunting during winter or rainy days.

For some shelters provided refuge, only three government shelters are operational in Joburg. Three Kotze Street Shelter in Braamfontein is the largest, accommodating 350 males and females, followed by the 1 Dan Street shelter which has a bed capacity of 60 for males only and lastly, 21 Windsor West which has a bed capacity for 40 males only.

Despite this, homelessness receives little to no attention in annual budgets and planning, census data cannot even accurately capture the number of people on the streets in the municipality. Consequently, careless estimations have been made, such as when Homeless Solutions, a non-profit organisation based in Pretoria said that there were a combined 600 000 homeless people in Joburg and Tshwane. Africa Check denounced this claim after finding out that it was based on opinion rather than evidence.

Moreover, the municipality releases an Integrated Annual Report where overall city governance such as management, service delivery, financial performance and more are covered. This report also did not have any programmes or funding outlined for displaced persons. Instead, homelessness was identified as a hinderance to the public sector housing plan.

In April 2020, Gauteng premier, Panyaza Lesufi said that Johannesburg had 15 000 homeless people while Tshwane had 10 000. Yet, in a recent interview with News24 the CEO of Johannesburg Homeless Network, Mary Gillet-de Klerk said the number is currently more than 20 000 in Johannesburg.

Evidence shows that the municipality has made no financial investments in statistical research which could help to determine the accurate number of displaced persons. The director of research of the Gauteng Department of Social Development, Sello Mokoena confirmed that there are currently no plans to invest in such research. Therefore, speculations will persist.

On the contrary, the City of Cape Town (CPT) conducted an extensive study which not only found an approximate number but also the racial make-up and health status of its homeless population. This type of research required collaboration between various departments and NGOs and ultimately assisted the local government to plan for this vulnerable group’s basic needs.

The departments of Social Development, Financial Development, Human Settlements, Public Safety and Transportation are some of the city’s key drivers of social change. But when questions about shelters, budgets and healthcare for the homeless are raised, the finger pointing begins.

The Johannesburg Department of Social Development (DSD) defines homelessness as “displaced persons who live on the streets, under bridges or open spaces and are unable to provide themselves with shelter at any given time or place.”

The above definition proves that housing is a huge problem, however, Shiraaz Lorgat who oversees social housing funds under Human Settlements said they do not “play in the homelessness space” as they only fund affordable rental projects.

When enquiring about the inadequate health facilities and services provided for homeless people, the deputy director of the District Health Services Dorothy Diale, told Wits Vuvuzela that homeless people are attended by “social development,” but did not comment on the health department’s mandate on displaced persons.

Ultimately, the department of social development acknowledged that they are accountable for the homeless population, but clearly indicated that against popular belief, their mandate is not to remove people from the streets but rather to create awareness and to work closely with those who are willing to be assisted. “Human Settlements is not doing what they should be doing, its mandate is to provide housing, our [social development] mandate is not to build,” said Kebonye Senna, the head of the Migration, Displaced, and Children’s Services Unit in the department.

The lack of accountability propelled the provincial government (Gauteng Department of Social Development) to rely on Non-Profit and Non-Governmental Organisations to care for homeless beneficiaries, and allocated R87 million to the NPOs in 2022 and in 2023. Budgetary constraints saw the same allocation two years running.

Nonetheless, during the state of the province address on February 20, 2023, Lesufi announced that R2 billion was allocated to NGOs without specifying whether this was in addition to the R87 million. In response to this, Senna expressed her dissatisfaction and lack of trust for NPOs, noting that the government is wasting money by funding them. She further referenced an article published on November 6, 2023, about corrupt NPOs using resources provided for the poor for their personal benefits. “The money given to NGOs is meant to assist shelters. R 289 000 should be given to 3 Kotze Shelter per month and R 55 000 to 21 Windsor West, but theres only R 20 000 provided for both shelters.”

The 2022 social development policy document on homelessness has an alphabetical list (A-Z) of objectives. Three specific goals stand out. The first states that the department should “institute regular research (every two years) to establish the nature and extent of homelessness in the city”. The second states that the department should “facilitate access to housing through advocacy programmes for the homeless,” and the third that there should be a “special allocation of a percentage of houses to rehabilitated homeless people”. These objectives have not been realised and there are currently no plans in place to pursue them.

The slogan for the Johannesburg Health Department is, “one city, one health system” thus the assumption is that displaced people are included in healthcare services, especially because they are more prone to contagious, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

The city has 40 public clinics and hospitals, however, according to a report by the National Institute of Health, homeless patients face discrimination, marginalization and stigma when accessing public hospitals. Moreover, there are no programmes in the department of health tailored to the needs of displaced persons, particularly if they are immigrants or do not have identification documents. For example, the latest HIV counselling and testing policy, dates to December 2003 but does not make mention of homeless people.

Twenty three yearold Sandile Letsoele told Wits Vuvuzela that he does not go to public hospitals because the nurses look down on him and other homeless people. “They’ll just look at you and tell you to stand very far, so we normally wait the whole day before we get help,” said Letsoele.

In partnership with the Holy Trinity Church in Braamfontein, University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) students established the only clinic for homeless people in South Africa in 2004.

However, the leader of the church, Father Bruce Botha told Wits Vuvuzela that the clinic has not been operating since covid-19 due to “institutional problems” which he did not wish to elaborate on. The Health Sciences Faculty at Wits did not respond to queries around this either. “When it does run, it provides basic health screening, medical consultation, providing free prescription medication, wound dressing and HIV screening,” said Botha.

The issue of stigmatization goes beyond health care facilities, it is also seen in local communities.  Senna said that social development looks for hotspots before establishing a shelter, “We tried in Lenasia but there were issues of security, people don’t understand homelessness- they associate it with criminal activities.” She added that they are currently building another shelter in Freedom Park which will accommodate both males and females.

Displaced persons sometimes complain about the accessibility and treatment in NGOs and shelters.  Thirty year old Nicholas Mncube, from Zimbabwe said he went to 3 Kotze shelter in Braamfontein, but they refused to take him in without a social worker. “I really don’t know why they wanted me to bring a social worker, but now I’m staying at MES [an NGO for the homeless] which is also here in Braam.” Mncube said staying at MES costs R30 per night which he cannot afford regularly, he can only go on days he has raised enough money from begging.

Apart from this, the homeless also try to forge their own homes, be it on the streets or by occupying abandoned buildings. Mncube who left Zimbabwe at the age of 23 said he lived and slept next to Joburg Theatre but was chased away by the police before going to MES.

Letsoele, who ended up on the streets due to drugs said he stayed at 3 Kotze but they kicked him out before his due time, “I was attending my sessions and recovering but they kicked me out during the weekend when my social worker was not there so I couldn’t even speak to him.” Contrary to this Senna said, the beneficiaries go through a three to six months programme which includes assessments and rehabilitation, and only released once their social worker believes they are ready for the outside world.

Councillor of Braamfontein, Sihle Nguse told Wits Vuvuzela that the homeless affect all sectors “everybody must play a role to assist the homeless, they are such smart guys they deserve a second chance at life”. He added that Braamfontein has approximately 500 displaced people.

Although the health and social development departments are jointly responsible for the city’s homeless pupulation, it is crucial to note the African phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child.” This implies that the upbringing and development of a child are not solely the responsibility of their parents or immediate family. Instead, it suggests that a community, including extended family, neighbours, and friends, play a crucial role in nurturing, guiding, and supporting a child as they grow and learn-this same analogy could be used in the case of homeless persons.

City of Joburg attempting to fill student housing gap

Johannesburg Social Housing Company’s student housing project aims to bridge the affordability gap but grapples with inner-city infrastructure and service delivery limitations

On the corner of Simmonds and Wolmarans streets, in the heart of the Johannesburg CBD, a cross-border bus station runs over with hundreds of packers and porters shouting offers to carry your luggage and show you the right bus, for the best price.

The chaotic business of trying to earn a living is nothing new to this part of town, but is a definite safety concern for Chris Mazibuko, the housing supervisor of the student accommodation building situated opposite this bus station.

“Some of these… street vendors, they harass my female students. You see those ones who are wrapping baggage, they start touching them. Luckily, we do have BadBoyz Security, they do respond on time, but they won’t see what is happening [all the time],” said Mazibuko.

This is Simmonds Street that runs in front of the entrance to Dakalo Student Court (on the left. The street is a busy hum drum of informal commerce, that students have to wade through to and from their residence. Photo: Morongoa Masebe.

Johannesburg Social Housing Company’s (JOSHCOs) Student Accommodation Portfolio Manager, Andile Nkosi, told Wits Vuvuzela that Dakalo Student Court, opened doors in 2021, following a unanimous municipal council decision to contribute local government resources towards the student housing crisis.

Local municipalities in South Africa are governed by municipal councils that are voted in every five years. Councils make all the decisions regarding service delivery, policies and programmes run by the municipality.

JOSHCO took the decision to council, and in 2021 they “got blessing from the council” said Nkosi. JOSHCO is an entity of the City of Johannesburg (COJ) metropolitan municipality, mandated with providing quality, low-cost and centrally located rental housing to households with incomes between R3500 and R15000. Finding quality and affordable housing around business districts can have a positive effect on the economic trajectory of a city.

Similarly, finding reasonably priced and high-quality accommodation within proximity to an institution of higher learning can significantly bolster the academic performance of students who face challenges affording housing expenses.

A Student Housing Landscape report by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), revealed that during the #Feesmustfall movement, government funding directed toward the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) surged significantly, skyrocketing from R8.96 billion to R14.6 billion. While this marked a pivotal moment, offering more students an enhanced opportunity for learning, it also brought forth an unforeseen challenge.

The exponential increase in financial aid created a dual effect on the educational landscape. On one hand, it widened the access for students to pursue their education, but on the other, it led to a strain on purpose-built student accommodations (PBSA), both on and off campus. These accommodations found themselves struggling to accommodate the burgeoning number of students seeking residency.

The sharp rise in government funding, while a crucial support mechanism for students, inadvertently increased the pressure on existing infrastructure designed to house them. The accommodation facilities meant for students faced an unexpected surge in demand, rendering them inadequate in capacity to cope with the overwhelming influx of students.

The report underlines a pressing need for innovative strategies to address the escalating housing demand that accompanies amplified access to institutions of higher learning.

JOSHCO enters the market as local governments attempt to address this problem.

Student resident existing JOSHCO’s Dakalo Student Court onto the busy Simmonds Street. Photo: Morongoa Masebe.

The report categorises PBSA in three ways: upper end student accommodation market, ranges between R5000 and R8000 (but can go as high as R14 000). They offer ensuite lofts or bachelor that have kitchenettes and space for a washing machine.

The second category is the mid-student market which ranges from R3000 to R4500 and can offer bachelor units or shared units with their own kitchenette, and communal bathrooms and laundry areas.

The third category is the ‘affordable’ student market, which can go as low as R500 a room. These offer a room, sometimes furnished with a desk, a wardrobe and a bed, along with communal bathrooms, a kitchen and a laundry area, that can be shared by several rooms.

Private accommodation developers have displayed a preference for creating student accommodations that cater to the mid-to-upper-end market, with a primary emphasis on proximity to universities. However, there is a consensus as reported by IFC among private and public developers that the greatest demand is within the affordable market. This means that the biggest factor contributing to the student housing crisis is that most students who desperately need accommodation, cannot afford it.

The ‘affordable’ market is made up of students primarily funded by the NSFAS. Unable to meet the high rental rates, many students have had to find cheaper alternatives. Cheaper alternatives in and around the city, come in the form of backyard dwellings, and other unregistered accommodations that do not offer security or safety.

This is where JOSHCO comes in, providing a relevant service to a market that otherwise would not be able to afford the advantage of staying within the Braamfontein education node. According to Nkosi, “99 per cent” of the students they currently house, are on NSFAS.

Nkosi said that “we saw a need, seeing young people, more especially from rural areas, being vulnerable in Johannesburg, not finding places, or getting expensive places which are not up to standard”. 

JOSHCOs student accommodation provides single units for R4100, double-sharing units for R3700 and four-sharing units for R3500 All rooms are furnished with a bed, cupboard, study table, and a fridge, kitchen cupboard, stove, kettle and microwave. The accommodation also provides Wi-Fi, and a shuttle service for students to and from their respective institutions of higher learning. 

“We are accredited by Wits and UJ, so what happens is that for instance if UJ or Wits, there are students who want accommodation, they will refer them to us, as an accredited facility” said Nkosi.

The IFC estimated the housing shortfall around the two major universities and the two TVET Colleges in the COJ area (Wits, UJ, Central Johannesburg College and Southwest Gauteng Tvet College) at 47 687. 

For now, the effective demand is determined by calculating the total enrolment of students in the various institutions and subtracting it from the available PBSA supply, both public and private. Public PBSA refers to student housing on and around campuses offered by the institutions themselves. The figure did not consider smaller institutions that cannot be categorised as universities or TVET colleges but offer higher learning services (Rosebank College and Damelin in Braamfontein are prime examples).

Of course, not all enrolled students need accommodation. Some may stay at home, or with other relatives who reside near the institutions. So, although the figure is not one hundred percent accurate, it can still give us a general idea that the problem is evolving into the tens of thousands every year, while student housing is only growing in a few hundred beds at a time. It may in effect, be considered a housing backlog.

JOSHCO’s student accommodation project does not stand independent and unaffected by the challenges that JOSHCO has faced in providing housing in the Johannesburg inner city.

Their integrated annual report and the section 79 oversight committee report for 2022, show that not only does the entity have a “housing backlog of 396 532 units” as a result of low revenue collection and high operating costs, JOSHCO recorded a budget deficit of R133.7 million. 

Section 79 committees are elected for each government department, by the municipal council, to submit recommendations and reports on the department’s functions and services.

Mpumelelo Phakhathi, a researcher in the section 79 oversight committee for housing, said that the factors recorded in the oversight report, amongst others, may well have a bearing on JOSHCO’s capacity to reach its student housing target.

JOSHCO has committed itself “to develop a student accommodation precinct that offers a safer sound security and technologically enabled environment”, with a target of 10 000 beds in five years.

Information provided about JOSHCO’s projects and development (P&D) office claims that they remain on target. However, the numbers are not on their side. A five-year plan that was piloted in the 2021/2022 financial year, concludes in 2025/2026. Their currently completed student accommodation houses 183 beds, meaning that JOSHCO must provide 9816 beds in the next three years or risk missing its target.

JOSHCOs target by Morongoa Masebe

The entity’s P&D office told Wits Vuvuzela that their pilot student accommodation cost R50.6 million to develop and that they have budgeted R3 billion, in pursuit of the targeted 10 000 beds.

However, the fact that JOSHCO has outsourced the management and maintenance of Dakalo House to Kwatloe Pro Power, a student facilities management company and that most of the building’s rental revenue is paid directly by Nsfas, creates mitigating factors against JOSHCOS student housing projects falling into the same pitfalls as their other projects.

The housing supervisor, Chris Mazibuko, is employed by Kwatloe Pro Power.

Although JOSHCO is yet to provide the safety and quantity that their plan potentials, Lungile Tebogo, who has been a tenant of Dakalo Student Court expressed to Wits Vuvuzela that the building is the cleanest and best maintained he has lived in around Johannesburg.

He moved to JOSHCO’s student accommodation after his room in a previous accommodation was flooded by a burst pipe.

When Wits Vuvuzela visited Dakalo Student Court, the security gate was open, the face recognition system was off, and you could barely see the next person’s face in the foyer in front of the stationery lifts. All due to a power cut.

Frequent unscheduled power cuts over two weeks, on the block where JOSHCO student accommodation sits, tarnish Tebogo’s praises of management. These power cuts, according to Tebogo are not part of the loadshedding schedule and can happen for up to 11 hours at a time.

“This is student housing, if this is what happens, what happens to our academic activities? That means a halt to them. Everything must come to a stop now”.

Mazibuko said that they have had to switch off the generator to save on the cost of diesel. This has affected water pressure and has also led to food wastage.

While bigger infrastructural failures like power cuts and loadshedding are beyond JOSHCOs control, they greatly compromise their idea of a “technologically enabled student precinct” in the Johannesburg CBD. The security and technological connectivity they promise fall apart when the reality of unmaintained inner-city infrastructure hits.

The Johannesburg CBD is considered the academic node with the largest total number of PBSA beds, standing at 31 958. Followed by Pretoria and then by Cape Town. 5279 of these are public and 26 679 are private.

In Gauteng, five corporate developers share the supply of PBSA beds, namely South Point, Respublica, Feenstra Group, CitiQ and Gateway Student Accommodation.

These private suppliers have thus far been catering mainly to the higher-end and mid- student accommodation market.

Students who cannot afford housing, are not only finding alternative accommodation in backyard dwellings and unregistered accommodations which increases the chances of rental abuse and unmaintained, unconducive living conditions, but they also tend to have the added disadvantage of walking or commuting further to and from school.

JOSHCOs student housing objectives, as set out in the City of Johannesburg’s five-year Integrated Development Plan (IDP), on paper, take into consideration the need for student accommodation to provide safety to students.

They provide security guards who constantly monitor the security gate that lets people in and out, and they enjoy the presence of a Badboyz security guard on their street. They also have facial recognition software for registered tenants.

This does not somehow take them away from the bustling of the city around them. Perhaps one day the completed student precinct will create a bubble that keeps students separate from the vibration of a city that harbours the up and down movements of men and women desperate for opportunities.

The area is over-populated with self-employed porters, baggage handlers packers and street vendors who scramble and fight over customers throughout the day. The intersection has become notoriously chaotic. Not itself uncharacteristic of the Johannesburg CBD, but the chaos creates the potential for the safety of students to be compromised. 

When some of the vendors “have lots of money they’ll start drinking around the building, and causing scenes,” said Mazibuko. Not to mention that the buses that move in and out the bus station opposite the building, make it a noisy place to study.

JOSHCO, as a social housing provider extending its services to a student market that cannot afford the current supply, is a story of success. However, the recent spate of burning buildings in the inner city brought much needed attention to the fact that any attempts to regenerate the inner city need to be amplified and scaled up as soon as possible.

City of gold or city of old? Joburg’s crumbling infrastructure points to chronic neglect

Some of the most important arteries linking the city of Joburg’s road network are in poor condition due to years of non-maintenance.

The recent collapse of a pedestrian bridge in Jeppestown (property of Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa) where two people got injured while walking on it highlighted the fragile condition many of the bridges in Joburg are in.

Earlier in the year transport MMC Kenny Kunene said that “the City of Johannesburg’s bridges are crumbling and there is no money to fix them.” This is after The Citizen reported that 90% of the City’s bridges were in poor condition as tabled in the 2021/22 Johannesburg Road Agency (JRA) annual report. In addition, the Bridge Visual Condition Assessment (VCA) conducted in the 2016/17 financial year found that 78.4% out of the 902 bridges that were inspected were in deplorable condition.

Several factors contribute to the current state of bridges in Joburg, but this also paints a grim picture of years of neglect by the city.

The city saw an influx of people in its early days as people rushed to seek opportunities in this mining town founded in the 1880s. This 137-year-old city has never stopped growing since the discovery of gold and now accommodates 6.1 million people, it needs functional infrastructure more than ever.

For a city to grow it needs infrastructure that will enable and support growth. Well-maintained infrastructure such as bridges and roads fosters economic development and enhances the provision of basic services. Bridges are the backbone of transport routes that get people to and from work and contribute to the city’s economy.

“The lack of infrastructure maintenance, corruption in which dodgy black economic empowerment companies have been gifted tenders and often build flimsy infrastructure and cadre deployees without the necessary technical skills who have poorly looked after public assets have now snowballed into the breakdown of the entire public infrastructure.”

Professor William gumede

An age old problem

Administrations have come and gone but the question remains, why are our bridges not maintained? Could it be that the City of Johannesburg doesn’t have money to spend on fixing bridges or poor governance?

Concerns over ageing road infrastructure (particularly bridges) are not new. Road infrastructure includes bridges, lights (traffic and street), surface roads, drains and railways. Bridges play an integral part in connecting the city’s roads and people to its seven regions.

In 2018 the Johannesburg Road Agency (JRA) revealed that only six percent of the city’s bridges were in good condition. Former city of Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba was alerted to ageing infrastructure that is on the brink of collapse by engineers this is as the city’s bridges are over 60 years old. Mashaba has reportedly indicated that the city has been under spending on infrastructure since 1994 which has resulted in the R170 billion infrastructure backlog in the city of Johannesburg. According to Mashaba, “the maximum that has been spent on repairs was two percent and national treasury expects maintenance and repairs expenditure to be between eight and ten percent.”

In the past 10 years the city had its fair share of collapsing bridges i.e., Hendrik Potgieter Road bridge and the Grayston Drive bridge in 2015 and 2022 respectively, leaving two people dead and 19 injured.

The Hendrik Potgieter Road Bridge in Roodepoort collapsed in December 2022 following flash floods that damaged it. The bridge lies on a road that connects Krugersdorp and Johannesburg; the site remains closed.

A bridge that was in its construction phase to link Sandton and the neighbouring Alexandra township collapsed in 2015. Sandton Chronicle reported that the Grayston Drive bridge was initiated by the Joburg Development Agency and the City of Joburg after a traffic and transport study was conducted in the area to reduce travel times and accidents.

The irony is the said bridge aimed to reduce “accidents”, however, it resulted in an accident. A section 32 inquiry was set up by the labour department to investigate the collapse of the bridge. The investigation found that incompetence, negligence, and missing bolts were factors that contributed to the collapse of the bridge. 

JRA claims to conduct regular monitoring and maintenance of their bridges, however, the situation on the ground paints a different picture.

In the 2016/17 financial year, JRA through its Roads Asset Management Systems Unit (RAMS) identified 68 bridges that need to be rehabilitated. As part of JRA’s ongoing programme to ensure effective structural and asset management and maintenance these bridges needed to be fixed in order to avoid a total collapse. The assessment found that majority of the bridges were over 50 years.

Professor William Gumede from Wits University’s School of Governance says, “the lack of infrastructure maintenance, corruption in which dodgy black economic empowerment companies have been gifted tenders and often build flimsy infrastructure and cadre deployees without the necessary technical skills who have poorly looked after public assets have now snowballed into the breakdown of the entire public infrastructure – causing a system failure.”

“This means South Africans will begin to see the rapid collapse of infrastructure, the damage from disasters will be multiplied and the cost of repairs will now be more than building new infrastructure. South Africa’s public rail, roads and state infrastructure have been totally captured at almost all levels – policies have been corrupted, contracts have been given to unqualified politically connected “BEE” contractors and incompetent cadres have been appointed to manage critical assets,” he continued.

To address the City’s infrastructure challenges and to restore its image as a “world class city” it would need a complete refurbishment.

Impact on communities

Joburg’s unmaintained and deteriorating bridges are constantly putting the communities that surround them and road users alike at risk.

Communities living near “poor conditioned bridges” have been raising their safety concerns. Safety concerns for these communities are not the only thing they are worried about other aspects include business and free movement.

Collapsed or decaying bridges make travelling on them not safe therefore communities have to use alternative routes to get around increasing travelling time and diverting customers from businesses.

One such community affected is the Bryanston community that lives near the Belgrave bridge. This low-lying bridge crosses the Braamfontein Spruit – a river that runs through greater Johannesburg’s suburbs until it joins the Jukskei River.

With every rainy season, the bridge floods making the road impassable. Cars have often driven off the bridge into the spruit thus making the bridge unsafe.

When we visited the area in October 2023, we observed that the concrete bollards placed on the side of the bridge to prevent cars from driving off the bridge were damaged.

Ian Tumiel, chairperson of the Bryanston East Community Forum confirmed to Wits Vuvuzela that the bridge has been an issue of concern for quite some time and the community has been vocal about it. 

Relaying the concerns about the bridge Tumiel says, “A new bridge has to be built. JRA has submitted plans for a new bridge and an environmental assessment has been carried out. Since the plans were shown to the community circa [in] 2018/2019 nothing further has taken place. Residents have been involved in the discussions at all times regarding the design of the new bridge. Since the last communication more than a year ago no further information has been provided by the Project Management company nor JRA.”

A collapse of a bridge means that the community is cut off essentially disrupting people’s lives. In 2020 a vehicular bridge in Kilburn, Roodepoort collapsed as a result of a storm.

Following the collapse of the bridge four years ago Ward 84 Councilor Johannes Goosen says, “There was little done to ensure the safety of the surrounding communities other than concrete blocks that were cordoning off the area.” This action gravely put the lives of the community in danger, explained Goosen.

The Kilburn route provided access to surrounding businesses and schools in the area and since the closure of the road businesses have suffered as a result. Asked what impact the closure has on the community Goosen said it affects the surrounding business with divergence of customers and lessening of foot traffic. Increased Traffic flow and usage by trucks etcetera through other streets in the residential suburbs are issues affecting the community.”

Essentially the entire community from businesses, residents and motorists were negatively affected by the collapse of the bridge.

Infrastructure maintenance and development

Professor Mfaniseni Sihlongonyane from Wits’ School of Architecture and Planning says, “It would take a combination of factors to destroy a brand [image] of a city and maybe we are going in that direction in the City of Johannesburg because it’s not only road infrastructure [bridges] that’s collapsing its many other forms of infrastructure. The “world class” aspect of it is being contested largely because certain aspects are not quite there.”

A “world class city” is characterized by but not limited to functional infrastructure [bridges, roads, buildings etc, that are in relatively good condition] and urban development. The collapse of bridges suggests that the city’s bridges are not functional or first for purpose.

According to the Development Bank of Southern Africa road infrastructure plays a critical role in South Africa’s economy. It makes it possible to transport goods and services, but it also enables movement for people, enhancing productivity within the economy therefore there needs to be adequate infrastructure. 

This is no different to Johannesburg its poor road infrastructure will have an influence on service delivery, this is as the roads in their current state do not support the movement of goods and services. The Citizen reported in 2018 that in a survey conducted in 2017, 3 900 km of the road network fell into the poor, or very poor, condition.

The expected increased congestion on affected roads was expected to affect the local economy, as well as tourism.

Congestion on affected roads will increase costs and travel time for businesses and commuters. Some businesses will move out of the city as business costs mount. The economy of the city will be negatively affected as businesses contribute towards the economy; investors will also not be attracted to the city because of its poor infrastructure.

R14 billion is needed to rehabilitate the City’s bridges this is according to the Johannesburg Roads Agency (JRA) which is an entity of CoJ responsible for the design, repair, maintenance and development of Johannesburg’s Road network and stormwater infrastructure.

With the deteriorating Joburg bridges the JRA requires more money than they are allocated to adequately repair and rehabilitate all bridges. This will ensure that the bridges maintain their structural integrity to avoid bridge failures.

The JRA manages a total of 1 592 structures which are classified as bridges including major and lesser culverts.

Bertha Peters-Scheepers, JRA’s communication operations manager told Wits Vuvuzela that for the current 2023/24 financial year the agency has been allocated R389 million to fix damaged bridges and culvert structures [often used in the channelling of water over a road]. She added that the allocated budget is insufficient to carry out the work.

To tackle the 100-year-old infrastructure the bridge rehabilitation programme was introduced in 2014 as a way of restoring, repairing, and maintaining bridge infrastructures alongside the VCA.

JRA will be embarking on a bridge rehabilitation programme at R389 million – bridges that have been earmarked for the work include Maphumulo, Buccleuch, Pierre Road, West, Cedar, Modderfontien and Canterbury amongst others. Additionally, we are also attending to damages caused by the December 2022 flash floods, said Peters-Scheepers.

The Maphumulo bridge culvert (which channels the Klip River) connects the two communities of Zola and Jabulani in Soweto. It got damaged in 2017/2018. The collapse had bad consequences for the two communities as they were now divided and could not move with ease from one end of the community to the other.

Much like the Maphumulo bridge, the Buccleuch bridge crosses the Jukskei River connecting the communities of Sandton and Midrand.

The bridges JRA earmarked for rehabilitation are mostly used by vehicles, but they also accommodate foot traffic. A lot of these communities rely on them to move between the areas.

To avoid another Grayston Drive bridge incident, Amanuel Gebremeskel CEO of the Southern African Institute of Steel Construction says that “bridge construction should be able to match SANRAL’s standard which he deems to be good.” According to Gebremeskel SANRAL has the best bridge conditions in terms of its guidelines.

He alludes that SANRAL does a better job at managing and building bridges than the city.

“Engineers and clients (those commissioning for bridges to be built) need to take into account different factors that go into the construction of bridges such as how will it be used and for how long, and the kinds of material to be used [steel and concrete],” explained Gebremeskel.

FEATURED IMAGE: A bridge that is on the brink of collapse in Selby, Johannesburg a couple of meters away from Standard Bank. Photo: Sbongile Molambo


In Westbury young people’s choices are limited to gangsterism or staying indoors

Well-resourced recreational facilities are meant to serve as a haven for the youth but that’s not the case for the community of Westbury.

The Joburg west suburb, Westbury has been crying about gang violence and drugs for years on end and their cries have seemingly gone unheard. The weekend of February 25, 2023 was the start of another cycle of violence in this community, two people were killed and 11 injured as a result of gang-related violence.

Like in the previous instances of violence in Westbury, the government, this time led by Minister of Police Bheki Cele reacted through a community meeting. A platform for the community to engage and air their grievances, one community member said: “We want to work – I can tell you that. We want to do [recreational] activities – but nothing is coming to us,” reported Eyewitness News.

Recreational facilities and activities that are well-resourced and maintained can help reduce the number of youth that join gangs in marginalised communities, according to the Southern African Journal of Social Work and Social Development Research, which explores the link between gang participation and the exclusion from recreational facilities.

The study further added that these spaces can help reduce and prevent crime by preventing juvenile delinquency through upskilling and keeping the youth busy. When young people don’t have access to these and have grown up in a violent environment, the chances of them falling prey to gangsterism is high. The effects of poverty and not being able to get out of the cycle of poverty can have a longlasting impact from generation to generation.

A section to the south of Sophiatown became a municipal shelter location known as Western Native Township to restrict African settlement in Johannesburg after 1924 when the Native Act of 1923 was enacted. The area was named Western Coloured Township after the Group Areas Act of 1950, and then renamed Westbury in the 1960s. The spatial planning cannot be ignored in how it contributed to how the area has turned out.

Spatial planning was designed to keep people of colour away from opportunities that could better their lives, research shows that people in these areas were kept far away from the economic opportunities that could help change their fortunes.

According to Wits University professor, Clive Glaser, who studies youth culture and the history of South Africa, young men need to have a sense of belonging , a space that’s bigger than a neighbourhood where they do not feel that their manhood is blocked socially, politically and economically. When manhood can not be exercised in these ways, exerting it through violence is often the route taken.

“Apartheid planning generally has contributed to that [gang violence] when you get areas that are poor and cut off and a few opportunities for young people and gangs look like more viable life choices than going the route of education,” said Glaser.

Lerato Ndlovu being shown around on where the youth programs take place in the Westbury Transformation Development Centre. Photo: Aphelele Mbokotho

Ending Cycles of Violence follows the origins of the formation of gangs in western Johannesburg during Apartheid and focuses on three periods of what it calls “gang violence cycles”.

The first “cycle” from 1994 to 1999 was defined by extreme violence when Westbury had the highest mandrax consumption in the country and a lot of turf wars were happening and then a gang truce, which was the result of the Westbury peace process in early 1999 when gang leaders from the various gang groups met to make peace.

The second cycle, from 2000 to 2013, saw the emergence of new criminal drug lords, an increase of drugs, and a lot of protests by residents that resulted in a visit from then-president, Jacob Zuma. The third cycle, 2014 to 2018, saw an increase in murder in the area and police involvement in criminal activities.

“The gangs in the Ward have been around for decades and will continue to be unless the cycle is broken and people are able to get back on their feet and not be dependent on the drug peddlers and gangs that they become affiliated with in order to survive,” said Susan Stewart, former ward 82 councillor. Stewart was in the position for 10 years and said little has changed since her term in office.

The crime statistics from crime hub show that the Sophiatown precinct where Westbury crimes are reported, showed an increase of almost 50 % over the last 10 years for attempted murder. Twenty seven attempted murder cases were reported in 2012 and 49 in 2022.

Drug related crimes have also been on the increase, reaching a peak in 2014/15 with 1515 cases reported. There’s been a slight increase between 2012 and 2022 where the number of cases were 906 and 1010 respectively. Murder had the highest increase over the past 10 years where the murder cases went from 12 in 2012 to 29 in 2022.

“The Crime Prevention Units and SAPS etc are not effective in dealing with the issues within the Ward and many are alleged to be involved with the syndicates, bribery and corruption and so there is very little to no hope that the situation will ever improve.  To eradicate society of gang violence the justice system has to work and unfortunately, it does not.  Even when arrested many of them are set free after bribing someone,” said Stewart.

Supporting this statement is a study, Ending Cycles of Violence which revealed police corruption and complicity in crime in the Western suburbs of Johannesburg.

“All the major gang bosses have police on their payroll. Some, he said, ‘are considered expendable because they can easily be replaced. Detectives are considered more important because they have access to dockets and decide who gets charged and who doesn’t,” the study revealed.

A resident of Westbury and a pastor in the community Doreen Babi, was a victim of police corruption where her identity was revealed to criminals for being a witness to a crime. “ I was an eyewitness for a murder case because they shot my friend… I was unknown and this policeman gave my identity to the people that shot my friend,” Babi recalled.

The most common area where profits from the drug economy have empowered gangs is their access to firearms. All the evidence suggests that today, influential gangs have more access to firepower than they did in the past. This is supported by the crime statistics of illegal possession of firearms and ammunition which had 22 cases 10 years ago but in 2022 the cases have increased to 61.

When asked where the youth obtained these illegal firearms, Babi adamantly said that it was from the police.

“The COJ has always and still done superficial intervention to real problems.  Window dressing as I would call it.  They create programs that encourage the youth to participate with a small stipend attached for a week, sometimes a few weeks or months and if they are lucky maybe even a certificate at the end that gives them access to nothing as it goes nowhere from there because there are no jobs that will absorb them after the fact,” said Stewart.

The youth often end up where they began after the programs that the city introduces in the community which is the reason why the youth of the community are crying out for recreational activities when they are there, they just aren’t programs that are run long enough she further added.

The City of Johannesburg has been allocated 57.7 million for community development for the current year and of that money sports and recreational centre’s are allocated R215 713 as shown in the Draft Medium Term Budget 2023/24-2025/26.

In this R215 713, money is allocated to Westbury to run some youth development programs. In Westbury, there’s a facility that lives by the motto: “We replace the guns and drugs with our skills development programmmes.”  Westbury Youth Centre runs a three-month job readiness program with the City of Johannesburg where each month they take 50 young people and provide computer training and conduct interview preparation, in an effort to make them employable.

“I would ask the city to extend those 3 months and fund us for a year because these programmes work but three months is not enough to run these programmes,” said Bridget Munnik, manager of the Westbury Youth Centre.

Among these facilities is the Westbury Transformation Development Centre which was recently upgraded by the Johannesburg Development Agency on behalf of the City of Johannesburg and cost the city R67 million. The centre opened in February 2019, and it offers sports and other recreational activities which they hope will empower and motivate the youth to improve their lifestyle and subsequently keep the youth off the streets.

Other services on offer include internet and computer access at the skills development facility, so people can look and apply for work.

Access to resources that focus on skills building, empowerment and the development of self-esteem is an important component in ensuring the protection of young people from the appeal of gangs.

The City of Joburg also runs programmes with I Love Robotics that cater to the vulnerable youth (12 year olds upwards). They run a Robotics programme during the April holidays which keeps these young people engaged in something interesting because it is around this age where it is reported that young people are most susceptible to influence.

This is another example of a programme which is too short, Stewart said more time would increase participants chances of employability.

“Keeping young people in school and enrolled in positive activities and providing proper resources, which could minimise the chances of them joining in gang violence, help them to become agents of change rather than threats in the society” reported SCielo in a study of the youth gang violence on the educational attainment and what benefits the youth get from joining gangs than being in schools.

Unfortunately for the schools in Westbury they cannot make schools a place where the learners can become these agents of change because the school premises have become a battlefield between gang members.

Carte blanche reported in May 2023 that 99% of learners in schools in Westbury aspire to become drug lords. Gang violence in this community has overflowed into the school premises and the work the school would do of having extramural activities is overshadowed by the violence that has entered the schools.

“The environment here at school currently is very volatile… The fights are normally between gang-related gangs, one gang attacking the other one because of what happened over the weekend” reported SABC News, speaking to the principal of Westbury Secondary School on how the school has become a battlefield.

Supporting this statement Munnik said: “It’s chaos at our schools, chaos because there are gangsters at the schools, especially in matric and so the two gangsters cannot see eye to eye in one school.”

The public safety Member of the Mayoral Committee (MMC) was reached out to, to provide insight on the safety approach to the rampant criminality in the community but no response was received from him.

Alexandra: A microcosm of the Joburg’s housing crisis

Corruption, inequality, mismanagement, and most importantly, the rapid growth of informal settlements—are all testament to the city’s flawed housing system.

On the fateful morning of August 31, 2023 the City of Johannesburg was jolted awake by a harrowing inferno that engulfed a building at 80 Albert Street, claiming the lives of nearly 80 people. This tragic incident spotlighted the alarming reality of numerous hijacked buildings scattered across Johannesburg. These buildings often house the poorest of the poor and are typically overcrowded, unregulated and unsafe.

Though much of the discourse centred on hijacked buildings, it illuminated a more pressing concern – Johannesburg’s staggering housing backlog. Currently, the city faces a backlog of roughly 400 000 homes. With the current rate of delivering sitting at approximately 3 500 housing units per year, it would take the city 100 000 years to address the backlog.

While these figures are staggering, they barely scratch the surface of the problem. In 2022, former member of the mayoral committee (MMC) for human settlements, Mlungisi Mabaso, revealed that the backlog exceeded half a million when factoring in informal settlements and hostels.


Four facts about the housing backlog in Johannesburg. Graphic: Terri-Ann Brouwers

Although South Africa’s Constitution guarantees the right to access adequate housing for all, prioritising, “those living in extreme conditions of poverty, homelessness or intolerable housing,” the country’s social housing system remains deeply flawed.

In a nation grappling with a staggering 32.6% unemployment rate,  and where 18.3 million South Africans between the ages of 18-59 are living below the food poverty line, the social housing system mandates households to have a minimum income of R1 500 in order to qualify.

According to Stat SA’s General Household Survey (GHS) South Africa faces a severe dependence on social grants, with social grants constituting the second most significant source of income for households, accounting for 50.2%. Additionally, 20% of households suffer from food insecurity. These statistics raise a critical question: If millions of South Africans rely on social grants and live below the food poverty line, where are they expected to find the means to participate in social housing programmes?

When faced with a housing backlog of this magnitude, people are compelled to take matters into their own hands. This is precisely what numerous South Africans have done at various informal settlements across the city. Therefore, it is conceivable that the housing backlog is intricately connected to the emergence and rapid increase of informal settlements.

While the city lacks a formal definition for informal settlements, they operate under the following working definition: “An impoverished group of households who have illegally or without authority taken occupation of a parcel of land (with the land owned by the Council in the majority of cases) and who have created a shanty town of impoverished illegal residential structures built mostly from scrap material without provision made for essential services and which may or may not have a layout that is more or less formal in nature.”

In 2010, the city reported 180 informal settlements scattered throughout its various regions. Fast forward to 2023, and that number has surged to approximately 320 informal settlements citywide. This raises the question: What is being done to address the situation of those residing in these informal settlements?


The increase in informal settlements in Johannesburg over a 13 year period. Graphic: Terri-Ann Brouwers

Alexandra, Alex, Gomora

Situated across from Sandton, the wealthiest square mile in Africa, and separated only by the M1 freeway, lies the township of Alexandra also nicknamed Alex or Gomora. Upon observing this area, one is struck by the makeshift structures, known as shacks, and even more astonished by the high population density. Hundreds of thousands of people have been residing in this informal settlement for many years. They have turned to this option while waiting to be provided housing by the City of Johannesburg, with some having been on the waiting list for nearly 50 years.

Ward councillor Floyd Ngwenya represents ward 107 in Alexandra and states that the settlement is hugely overpopulated. “When we look at the books Alex was supposed to have at least 60 000 thousand people staying in Alex, but we are [almost] a million now,” said Ngwenya. It is estimated that Alex currently has roughly 700 000 residents. Alexandra is clearly in urgent need of social housing, but not much has been done to address this issue.

Mabaso told Wits Vuvuzela that, “The backlog in fact started in 1996, in fact prior to 1996 because there are people with B forms that have [still] not been allocated [homes].”

When questioned about when he applied for social housing, Modise Christopher Bosielo (55) an Alex resident and father of three said, “I don’t remember [exactly] when, but it’s about twenty years.”

To add insult to injury, Boiselo and his wife are both unemployed and, and in his words, ‘”struggling to make ends meet”. However, he is aware that besides the housing backlog, he and his wife do not qualify for the existing social housing programmes due to not meeting the financial requirements.

While residents wait to be formally housed, their current living conditions are deplorable.

“Living conditions, I can describe it as the most challenging and I think for obvious reasons,” says Mabaso. He continues “They do not have proper houses; they are living in temporal structures that get affected in whatever condition of the weather. If it’s heavy raining it gets flooded and if it’s too hot, then you can’t stay inside. Above that there are no proper basic services that are provided. I mean all the services, the provision is on [a] temporal basis, the electrification, water, you know there is not proper sanitation.”

A Missed Opportunity – Alexandra Renewal Project

Despite the grim situation, policies and programmes have been implemented over the years to address housing issues in Alexandra. One of the programmes implemented was the Alexandra Renewal Project (ARP). The ARP, initiated by the national government in 2001, and received a budget of R1.3 billion. Its purpose was to enhance the “physical, social, and economic environment of Alexandra.” A key goal was to augment housing and reduce population density in the area. The question is whether it has delivered on its intended promise, and the answer is no.

This resulted in what was termed the #TotalShutDownofAlex protests in August and July 2019. Residents of Alexandra mobilized in protest against the lack of service delivery in their community, specifically emphasizing the acute housing shortage. Subsequently, a collaborative investigation conducted by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and the Public Protector was undertaken to address the myriad issues raised by the protestors. A pivotal aspect of this investigation focused on scrutinizing the management of funds allocated to the ARP.

The investigative team gathered submissions from numerous Alexandra residents. Many of them contended that the total funds allocated for housing under ARP were unaccounted for by the relevant government authorities. Residents of Alexandra further asserted that despite substantial spending under ARP, the housing outcomes in their area were disproportionately inadequate.

A submission presented by the Auditor-General of South Africa (AGSA) to the investigation team underscored the numerous gaps during the audit of the ARP. The AGSA noted inadequate project planning and a lack of proper documentation for project assessment. Moreover, the individual projects within the ARP were not efficiently executed and supervised. Due to a lack of documentation submitted by ARP, AGSA could also not verify if the funds allocated to the ARP were exclusively used for the project.  

Further submissions were made by the Group Forensic Investigation Services of the city of Johannesburg and they highlighted the following:

(a) Evidence of criminality, conflicts of interest on the part of certain service providers

(b) That the ARP management was marked by procurement fraud, post facto approvals, irregular awards, advance payments, unauthorised expenditure, fruitless and wasteful expenditure of up to R40 million;

(c) Projects not optimally managed thereby leading to poor work quality, late delivery of projects, project overruns;

(d) Tender and contractual disputes where contractors defaulted, filed for insolvency, contract terminated and court challenges, etc.

A Sector Vulnerable to Corruption

Wits Vuvuzela spoke to Marie Huchzermeyer who is an associate professor at the Wits School of Architecture and Planning and has done extensive research on informal settlements within the City of Johannesburg. Huchzermeyer says, “In the housing sector there’s long been a discussion about the RDP housing system not being fair and not being a good way of government spending its money, although it must also be recognised that at least the government is doing something, it does have a housing programme, it is rolling and it is allocating budget to it, but because it’s allocating such a lot of budget to housing, housing is also the most vulnerable to corruption.”

She also says that detecting corruption in this sector is challenging. “There are so many housing projects that are incomplete, where contractors have disappeared, and whether its corruption or whether its poor project management, budgets not being properly planned for and allocated, the capacity to actually deliver housing seems to be very fragile at the moment,” says Huchzermeyer.

The level of corruption is not lost on the residents of Alex and other informal settlements. “They know that the allocation processes are so fraud that when a housing project gets built politicians somehow interfere in the allocation of units and the people that were supposed to benefit from them don’t,” says Huchzermeyer.

“With corruption, it’s a reality, we cannot run away from it, and I think that’s the conundrum that the sector is facing,” says former human settlement MMC Mabaso.

He continues “I can tell you; you have a cartel in the construction [industry] that is operating, taking charge of the budget, and not delivering the good and the quality work that is expected. So, people are interested in the sector because you know you get rich quicker when you are a developer and that’s where their area of interest is actually at.” He says that it is the main challenge that is hindering the performance of the department.

While there appears to be significant mismanagement in the city’s housing sector, specifically Alex, the key question is what actions the city is taking to address this issue and whether those actions are enough.

Speaking on actions taken by the city Councillor Floyd told Wits Vuvuzela: “Currently the city of Johannesburg has implemented a project called UISP which is [the] Upgrading of Informal Settlement Programmes. That programme aims to identify informal settlements around Johannesburg and try and formalise those settlements within the spaces they are currently in. My ward with the informal settlements that we have, we have consultation meetings with residents of those informal settlements to say [ask] what is the best way you [the residents] think the government can assist you.”

A graphic detailing what a UISP is and the four phases of a UISP. Graphic: Terri-Ann Brouwers

Mabaso’s sentiments are that the city has not done enough. “The city has not done enough to address the housing backlog and the informal settlements; we have not done enough,” he says.

Mabaso says while grants are in place to address informal settlements they are not being used correctly. “If you look at the performance of the city now, I can tell you they are not spending the grants [on] the programmes they should be spending them [on].”

He also highlights the alarming fact that construction has not commenced on recent housing projects that were implemented. He explains that this is due to the city’s capital budget being allocated to projects that were started years ago.

“There are no construction of houses in the mega project that we are currently implementing so, every expenditure that is on our capital budget now is for the work that started [a] long time ago, so there are no new developments that are taking place. I know there is one that will be launched that we started three years ago, so the city has not really done enough.”

Over the years, various policies and programs have been implemented, whether they have been successful or not, to address the city’s housing needs. Changes have certainly taken place; however, Huchzermeyer says, “What hasn’t changed is the need for people to resort to informal settlements.”

FEATURED IMAGE: Seated on a bench, three friends gaze out over the landscape they call home—Alexandra. Photo: Terri-Ann Brouwers


Joburg’s landfills almost at capacity

Soon, the city of Joburg will be sinking in its own rubbish

Piles of waste next to the road in Johannesburg’s CBD. Photo: Ayanda Mgwenya

While walking through Johannesburg’s CBD, it is difficult to ignore the amount of rubbish that coats the inner city’s streets. Bree Street, which was recently hit by a gas explosion, is now filled with some of the waste that is carried throughout the city and blown around by the wind, into the raptured road.

However, a more pressing issue lies hidden within Johannesburg’s landfills, which are meant to accommodate the continuously increasing piles of waste from the streets and illegal dumping grounds.

The current operating landfills in Johannesburg, namely: Goudkoppies Landfill Site, Marie Louis Landfill Site, Genesis Landfill Site, and Robinson Deep Landfill Site, are running out of space to dispose of waste rapidly produced by the increasing population of residents living in Johannesburg.

A report, compiled by, Kobus Otto & Associates Waste Management Consultants, a professional civil engineering organisation with extensive experience in waste management, titled Current Status of Landfill Airspace in Gauteng, which is affiliated with the Institute of Waste Management of Southern Africa (IWMSA), states that these landfills have less than five years before they close.

According to the DA’s Shadow MMC of Public Safety, Michael Sun, who spoke to SowetanLive during his time as the MMC for Environment and Infrastructure Services, said, “There is a critical need for waste reduction in that the city’s existing landfills are running out of airspace at a very fast rate.” This could mean that the current operating landfills in Johannesburg are close to exceeding the benchmark of their airspace capacity.

Situated in industrial peripheries of Turffontein is the Robinsons Deep Landfill Site. It is the largest and oldest landfill in the city and has been in operation since 1933.

As you arrive at Robinson Landfill, the first thing that strikes you is the sight of the towering mountains, but instead of its natural greenery, they are composed of an overwhelming amount of waste.

Going further up the mountain, the waste thickens. Piles upon piles of discarded items strewn about, accompanied by an overwhelming and repulsive stench that will assault your senses – with waste pickers actively searching for anything valuable – be it plastic, glass or cardboard for recycling.

“The waste pickers are there illegally, in terms of our license, they are not supposed to be there.”

Donald Radingoana

You will find a variety of waste such Municipal Solid Waste (MSW): This is the most common type of domestic waste and includes everyday items like food scraps, packaging materials, newspapers, clothing, plastics, glass, paper products, and other common household materials.

Organic waste, such as food waste, garden waste (including leaves, branches, and grass clippings), and other biodegradable materials, is also commonly deposited in landfills.

Building rubble (concrete from demolished structures, including foundations, walls, bricks and pavement), and other hazardous materials like cleaning chemicals, pesticides, batteries, and electronic waste is found in the landfill too.

All of this waste is combined without proper sorting, forming unorganized piles. Large trucks queue up one after the other, from as early as 09:00 to as late as 20:00, to deposit this waste in the landfill. This is a daily on-going process and without massive effective recycling methods, the waste will continue to pile up.

Wits Vuvuzela interviewed Donald Radingoana, the general manager for landfill operations at Pikitup who said, “what determines the lifespan of a landfill is the capacity [airspace]. Every now and then, the surveyor comes and surveys the stockpile [of waste]” to determine the height of the pile. According to their license which determines the capacity, Radingoana said that the total capacity of the landfill is 25 000 000m3, and Robinsons has occupied 24 000 000m3 which leaves the landfill with only 1 000 000m3 remaining, and this airspace can keep them operating for four years.

Waste scattered at the Robinsons landfill. Photo: Ayanda Mgwenya

Pikitup, a subsidiary of the City of Johannesburg (CoJ), serves as the primary waste management service provider within the CoJ. Its core responsibilities encompass the collection and disposal of household waste, carried out through the operation of four distinct landfills across Johannesburg. On a weekly basis, Pikitup delivers waste management services to 1.4 million formal households and 260 informal settlements in Johannesburg.

Pikitup has two primary objectives. The first objective is to achieve “Zero waste to landfills by 2022,” aligning with the global best practice standard, which stipulates that only 10% of the waste stream should be disposed of in landfills”.

The second key objective of Pikitup is to promote recycling. Recycling is essential in the reduction of the amount of waste sent to landfills and extracting maximum value from the waste stream.

Unfortunately, Pikitup has not been able to meet its own objectives in the reduction of waste sent to the landfills. Currently, only 13% of the waste in Johannesburg undergoes recycling, indicating that the combined efforts of all landfills result in recycling less waste than they generate.

The volume of waste generated by the residents of the city has increased significantly. With an increasing monthly population of 3000-5000 people every month, according to Sun in an interview with the Daily Maverick, more waste is yet to be generated. This means that as more people come into the city, the consumption of products and use of resources increases, thus, more waste is generated into the city.

The Association for Water and Rural Development, which is a nonprofit organization dedicated to implementing research-driven, multidisciplinary projects and addresses issues of sustainability, conducted a study in 2019. It found that, “every single person (in South Africa) generates up to 2,5 kilograms of waste per day, depending on his or her level of income.” The CoJ collects approximately 6000 tonnes of waste every single day.

This tells us that increased waste production can lead to environmental issues, such as land and water pollution, if waste is not managed properly. It can also pose health risks, as improper disposal and open dumping can lead to the spread of diseases and contamination of air and water sources. Extensive waste generation can also result in increased economic costs for waste collection and disposal.

The New York State Department of Health states that, “Landfill gas contains many different gases. Methane and carbon dioxide makes up 90 to 98% of landfill gas. The remaining 2 to 10% includes nitrogen, oxygen, ammonia, sulfides, hydrogen and various other gases. Landfill gases are produced when bacteria break down organic waste.”

Simply put, high greenhouse gas emissions signify an increased release of gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming and climate change. This amplifies the carbon footprint, as it measures one’s environmental impact in terms of emissions. A high carbon footprint indicates greater environmental harm, requiring urgent reduction efforts for sustainability.

According to Pikitup, the city produces over 1.4 million tons of waste per year, and this excludes illegal dumping.

Radingoana said that there are no machines for processing domestic waste, but only crushers, which is the equipment used to recycle builders’ rubble. Which means that the majority of the food scraps go to the landfill. When a landfill contains higher amounts of organic waste, it results in increased production of landfill gases.

The landfill (Robinsons Deep) depends on private recycling companies, which recycle waste. These companies select the waste they want and handle the sorting themselves. Any waste they reject is transported back to the landfill site by Pikitup trucks.

Securing a new landfill site is a process that requires extensive regulation and. Radingoana said, “the process of applying for a permit takes plus-minus two years.” He told Wits Vuvuzela that Robinson Deep bought land next to it, to extend the life of the existing landfill to avoid applying for decommissioning. He said that they have started the process of applying for a permit for the new site because getting a permit after decommissioning is not easy and are doing this before they reach the capacity of 25 000 000m3.

He says the reason why it takes two years is because they must do environmental studies such as the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), geological studies, biodiversity studies, hydrological studies and consent from the neigbouring communities.

“Spokesperson of Pikitup, Muzi Mkhwanazu said, “Pikitup and the City are involved in discussion for the purchase of land for future airspace. Phase 1 of the Feasibility studies is completed. The site identified is suitable for landfilling and the discussions with the City [of Joburg] for the release of land has been favourably concluded.”

The construction of a landfill itself is another process altogether. Radingoana claims that the cost of constructing a new site with a lifespan of over 20 years (such as Robinson Deep) is R200 million and can take more than five years for it to start operating.

The aim is to ensure that the new land is secured and ready for the expansion of the existing landfill before Robinson Deep runs out of airspace to avoid being non-compliant, and spaceless for additional waste.

Siyabonga Zungu, a frequent waste picker at Robinson Deep said, “I come here almost every day, this is how I make a living.”  He said that he stays at the community of Booysen (which is next to the landfill) with his girlfriend whom he met two years ago and is also waste picker. He told Wits Vuvuzela that he has been a waste reclaimer for six years now and moves around in various dumps to collect waste and take it to entities that are looking for recyclables. He said that he has been reclaiming waste at Robinson for two years and six months.

“It very dangerous to do this kind of work, sometimes fights would start randomly because people steal other people’s waste here inside the landfill then things would just get out of hand.” He told Wits Vuvuzela that his family in Kwazulu-Natal (KZN) where he comes from does not know that he is a waste picker. He told them that he is an entrepreneur that sells electrical equipment like earphones and phone chargers.

The National Environmental Management: Waste Act of 2008 is responsible for ensuring and regulating that the national standards of waste management such as licensing, contaminated land restoration, waste information systems, compliance and enforcement are well reinforced.

This means that landfill owners have to secure a waste management license in order to fully function with well-managed facilities, strict monitoring and a properly engineered site.

According to Radingoana, “The waste pickers are there [at Robinsons Deep] illegally; in terms of our license, they are not supposed to be there.”

The Minimum Requirements for Waste Disposal by Landfill, Second Edition 1998, issued by the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, discourages waste reclamation at landfill sites. If a license holder chooses to permit controlled reclamation at a general waste disposal site, they must request permission either when applying for their waste management license or by amending an existing permit/license.

The operation of landfills involves various expenses related to construction, operation, maintenance, compliance, and long-term care.

Financial resources are essential to ensure that landfills function safely, environmentally responsibly, and in accordance with regulations. Radiongoana said that the City budgets R100 million for the four operating landfills in total, which means that Robinson receives R25 million every year, and “is not enough” to effectively ensure that all the operations run smoothly.

Radingoana said that he is currently in the process of refurbishing a structure at Robinsons Deep which he calls Material Recovery Facility (MRF) where the sorting of waste will take place. He said, “any truck that goes into the landfill, must first go dump waste at MRF where the sorting will be done in order to recover raw material.” He said anything that will not be unrecyclable or non-material will go to landfill site to be buried.

The law stipulates that a landfill has to be 500 kilometers away from the residents. However, as the city develops, more people come into the city, some moving towards the outskirts of the city and reaching even the industrialised areas of the city which were not initially intended for communities.

Johannesburg faces a looming landfill crisis, with existing sites nearing capacity. Despite efforts by Pikitup and regulations in place, waste generation outpaces recycling. The city urgently needs new landfill space, highlighting the complex challenges of waste management in a rapidly growing urban landscape.

CoJ drowns swimming hopes of a generation

The metro keeps budgeting for a swimming pool in Cosmo City that is now seven-years in the making while pools in Windsor West, Robin Hills, and Blairgowrie remain closed with no hopes of ever being utilised.

Way back in May 2016, then Member of the Mayoral Committee (MMC) for finance in the City of Johannesburg, councillor Geoffrey Makhubo delivered a budget speech in which the construction of a new swimming pool in Cosmo City was announced, as one of the projects the city’s department of community development would oversee that year.

It is now 2023, and the current MMC for finance, councillor Dada Morero also nodded to this unrealised project in his budget speech delivered on June 13, 2023. Seven years later and the pool only exists on paper.

“Community Development has further been allocated a three-year capital budget of R238.7 million for the upgrading and construction of facilities including multipurpose centres in Matholesville, Kaalfontein and Drieziek as well as a new swimming pool in Cosmo City,” the MMC announced.

However, this is not even the biggest problem. According to overview of the Johannesburg department of Community Development, the city is responsible for 57 swimming pools that should be open during weekdays. They open annually from September 1 and close for maintenance on March 31. On August 24, 2023 the CoJ released a media statement announcing that only 18 pools of the 57 were ready to open on September 1 and an additional 29 were to be opened during the season.

With 10 swimming pools completely unavailable, the department could only ready less than a third of the 57 pools to open on September 1. Can the department of community development be trusted to eventually deliver this promised pool in Cosmo City and keep it functional? Moreover, how is this disadvantaging the community in Cosmo and letting down the slogan of Johannesburg – a world class African city.

Professor Louis Grundlingh, a Johannesburg historian writes on municipal modernity and the politics of leisure in Johannesburg. The construction of swimming pools in Johannesburg  during the 1920s and 1930s were part of the council’s efforts towards British modernisation – a development in society that abandons agricultural and rural ways for industrial and urban ones.

Apart from the prestige of the town, there were health and sports related reasons for the need to construct swimming pools. “The link between the healing properties of water and the benefits of swimming as a healthy exercise soon became apparent,” Grundlingh said. From sunbathing to the introduction of aquatic sports, the swimming pools were a place to be for spectators and participators alike.

This unfortunately highlighted how Africans have long been at the bottom of the class, race, and cultural hierarchy.  The first official municipal swimming pool in Johannesburg opened on January 18, 1909, for the English-speaking white middle class at Ellis Park. The first swimming pool in an Afrikaans-speaking neighbourhood was built in 1929 at Mayfair. Africans only received their first swimming pool at the Wemmer Hostel site in 1936.

In 1994, South Africa realised democracy and the first democratic government of the country were faced with huge task of fast tracking the development of African lives, communities, and standards of living, including swimming and access to swimming pools.

Grundlingh explains how the construction of swimming pools has become “physical manifestations of municipal grandeur and pride of the city”. A pivotal part of place-selling at the time.

Prof. Louis grundlingh

The Johannesburg metropolitan municipality appointed their first post-apartheid mayor from the ANC in 1995, the late Isaac Mogase. In 2000, the ANC won the local elections again and appointed Amos Masondo as mayor. He served as mayor for 10 years over two terms until the ANC won the 2011 municipal elections and Parks Tau was appointed.

Nearing the end of Tau’s term, the late MMC for finance Geoffrey Makhubo announced in the budget speech, “New projects [will] include the construction swimming pools in Cosmo City, Ivory Park and various multipurpose centres…”. Little did he know that his organisation would lose Johannesburg to the DA  in August 2016.

Herman Mashaba was then elected as the new mayor from the DA. Part of his mayoral committee was the MMC for community development, councillor Nonhlanhla Sifumba. Coming in after the ANC’s long reign, she told Wits Vuvuzela that the state of the department as something that was in “ICU” (intensive care unit). Sifumba found that the repairs and maintenance budget was not being utilised, contractors were not paid, other were not working, “there  was just chaos in that particular department,” she said.

The Department of Community Development aims to “transform the delivery of sports, arts, culture and libraries by ensuring equitable access, development and excellence at all levels of participation, thereby improving social cohesion, nation building and the quality of life for all in the City of Joburg,” as stated in their overview. Sifumba sums it up as a department that takes a person “from cradle to grave” – meaning throughout life and speaks of its core mandate as , “provision of access more than anything, ” she said.

During Sifumba’s tenure, 48 swimming pools out of the 54 (at the time) opened on September 1, 2018. Including the now vandalised and abandoned Windsor West, Robin Hills, and Blairgowrie pools. She was also aware of the Cosmo City swimming pool as a project that was yet to begin, “there was budget arrangement that was done and unfortunately the contractor that was commissioned there, there were problems. Apparently, he didn’t have capital,” Sifumba said.

While the issues with the contractor went on, a part where Sifumba said that the authority of councillors limits their interference with tender-related business, the progress of the project was already delayed. “Money was taken from that project because there was no progress and it was funnelled to other projects,” she said.

During the DA’s tenure, the Cosmo City swimming pool was allocated a budget of R18-million in the 2018/2019 Integrated Annual Report(IAR) and then later adjusted to R3-million with nothing spent from it. “When they do adjustments in the city, they prioritise certain areas… the adjustment is not done at [community development] only, it’s done throughout [all departments],” Sifumba said.

Announced again in the 2019/2020 budget speech  by the then MMC for finance -Funzela Ngobeni – as a coming project, the Cosmo pool was then allocated a budget of R10-million. Financial progress was being made as the  2019/2020 IAR with R2.8-million spent from it and R7.2-million remaining from the original budget. This is after Herman Mashaba resigned as mayor over internal party politics and the ANC won the mid-term mayoral elections in December 2019, when Makhubo got more votes than Ngobeni.

Infographic by Otsile Swaratlhe

As per mayoral announcement, the mayor decides who they want on their MMC list and as expected, Makhubo appointed MMCs of his choice. Community development is now under Margaret Arnolds of the African Independent Congress (AIC) – a minority party. The appointment of a non-party member MMC by the mayor signals to what can be traced as the beginning of coalitions.

Arnolds’s role as MMC for community development was retained as the late mayor Jolidee Matongo had to replace Makhubo after he died due to covid-19 complications in 2021. Arnold’s tenure presented nothing remarkable for the city over the two-year period, as covid-19 and lockdown restrictions were the theme of that period.

However, it was interesting to find out that the budget of the Cosmo pool was adjusted to R7-million in the 2020/2021 IAR and no one to account for the already spent R2.8million and the carried over R0.2-million from the previous calendar year.

After seeing how beneficial coalitions are, the DA approached the 2021 local elections with the same strategy and were able to get former mayor Mpho Phalatse appointed as the mayor of the metro. Which she then introduced an MMC for community development from the African Democratic Country (ACDP) – Ronald Winston Harris.

The work and efforts of Harris’s role as MMC were overshadowed by the amount of motions of no confidence that Phalatse faced during her tenure. From November 2021 to January 2023, Phalatse faced a total of four motions of no confidence with the last one being the most successful and allowing her to be replaced by Thapelo Amad of Al-Jama-ah – another minority party. During this whole power struggle and exchanging of power, the Cosmo pool saw its budget adjusted again from R7-million to R15-million in the 2021/2022 IAR, still with no progress being made on the ground.

Coming with Amad as MMC for community is now the African Transformation Movement’s (ATM) Councillor Lubabalo Magwentshu. In the 2021/2022 to 2023/2024 medium term budget, Magwentshu is expected to now oversee an adjusted R27-million of a total estimated project cost of R42-million for a new Cosmo City swimming pool and community centre.

In a brief phone call conversation with the current MMC for finance Councillor Dada Morero, he directed any questions Wits Vuvuzela had to the MMC for community development. In multiple attempts to get the current MMC for this department – Magwentshu, he could not avail himself to answer any questions. This also goes for the councillor of the ward Cosmo City belongs to, ward 100 councillor Lyborn Ndou of the ANC.

To get an idea of what a community in Cosmo is missing out on, former MMC Sifumba painted her childhood in words, “I grew up in Soweto, Orlando West… Growing up, we had access to one pool, [the] now Orlando West Swimming pool. Going to the pool we would walk approximately 2km to the pool, at that age you always looked forward to going to the pool, especially when it’s hot.”

“Having a pool within a community brings about social cohesion. At times that is where you get to meet other people. We met people from Orlando East, people from Phefeni …Mofolo…People from different areas will converge in that pool and we [would have fun],” she said.

Unfortunately, social cohesion is not the only benefit of a pool that the Cosmo community is missing out on. Cosmo City residents are being deprived of opportunities for relaxation, fitness, and skills development. What could have been a community that produces another South African Olympic swimmer is now left in the unknown. As the residents continue to hope for the day when a swimming pool becomes a reality in their township, they also reflect on the potential for a brighter and healthier future with job opportunities that the pool would have brought.

R10 billion spent on entrepreneurs since 2017, but little to show for it

The City of Johannesburg invested billions in business incubators, policy changes and partnerships with the private sector to boost entrepreneurship as a solution to unemployment, but these efforts have been considered “inadequate” on a global scale.

The Roodepoort Civic Centre has a hidden entrance behind the glitz and glamour of the Roodepoort Theatre. It is here, just inside a small, gated door, where hopeful entrepreneurs can find the unassuming sign that reads, “Isiqalo Opportunity Centre.” 

A short trip to the fourth floor of the building and down a long corridor reveals a medium sized room, clean and tidy but especially quiet. The only sound the tapping of keys as two women work at administrative desks and one client, a man, uses one of the dozen available computers which neatly line the bottom left corner of the space to browse Facebook. According to the freely available brochure, this is the City of Johannesburg’s “concrete solution” to unemployment, stunted economic growth and informal trading.

Johannesburg has a rising unemployment rate of 26,5% according to the Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs profile on Johannesburg and a provincial youth unemployment rate of 63,9% according to a 2023 media release from the Gauteng office of the premier. The latest Global Entrepreneurial Monitoring Report (GEM), a 25 yearlong project which maps entrepreneurial ecosystems globally through direct interviews with entrepreneurs in over 50 countries, states that it is a lack of employment which drives 90% of entrepreneurs in South Africa to start their own business. 

Johannesburg is home to around a third of South Africa’s small, medium and micro enterprises (SMME’s) according to a 2022 study on Investigating SMMEs strategic planning techniques in Johannesburg central business district post-COVID-19 lockdown, and this number is growing. The City of Joburg’s definition of an SMME includes not only formal entrepreneurs but also informal traders, this is according to the Small Enterprise Development Agency’s research note on the South African SMME sector.

A market for women entrepreneurs was held in Johannesburg on May 7, 2023 at
Constitution Hill. Photo: File

The Department of Economic Development (DED) is responsible for entrepreneurship in formal and informal sectors, which they refer to “the backbone of any economy” on their website. The department’s mandate promises to, “Support the city towards achieving a 5% economic growth rate and to bringing down unemployment by 2021.” This includes promoting SMMEs, informal traders and streamlining regulation.

However, the department is yet to achieve the economic growth target in the City of Johannesburg, only seeing 0,79% growth in 2018, while the unemployment rate continues to grow, as jobs cannot be created fast enough for a growing population. In addition, the support laid out by the city for entrepreneurs and informal traders is regarded as inadequate by the GEM, who lists South Africa as the worst of over 50 participating countries in entrepreneurial framework conditions. 

This means that South Africa, and Johannesburg in particular, has no adequate framework conditions. These conditions include financing, policy, taxes and bureaucracy, city programmes, school-level entrepreneurship education and training. In addition, despite the department spending R10 billion in the last seven years towards these aims, they have consistently underspent their budget allocated by the city treasury, according to their annual and quarterly reports.

In the “Young Entrepreneurship Policy and Strategy Framework,” the vision is to make Johannesburg “the leading city in entrepreneurial development in the developing world by 2025” through removing barriers of poverty and unemployment. The policy was drawn up in 2009.

According to Leah Knott, Johannesburg Ward councillor and MMC for Economic Development between 2016- and 019, the Johannesburg policy on entrepreneurship has not been amended since. Knott said that this document is outdated, “we should be renewing policy every five years. But it takes 18 months to two years to be approved by council and this can’t happen when the Johannesburg government changes every five minutes.” Referring to the frequent changing of hands in the city’s coalition government, Knott added that, “when government changes, policies in the process go back to the beginning.”

In an effort to support entrepreneurs in Johannesburg, the DED launched ten opportunity centres throughout the city. Knott, who held the role of MMC during the rollout of the centres, said: “The majority of small businesses fail in their first three years, and so the centres give a leg up to entrepreneurs and give them the necessary tools to succeed, like how not to eat profits before seeing a return.”  The opportunity centres serve as entry points to local communities to access guidance and cut the red tape of bureaucracy when starting a business or growing an informal business into a sustainable, formal business.

This project began with the transformation and expansion of what used to be “business centres” according to Knott, who managed small advisory desks in regions E and A, Diepsloot and Alaxendra. The opportunity centres were created in collaboration with various Johannesburg-based communities, who said they did not visit the centres previously because they could not access them due to their placement. The department has since opened 10 opportunity centres in Diepsloot, Montclare, Florida Park, Soweto, the Johannesburg CBD, Alexandra, Braamfontein, the Joburg Market, Elderado Park and a mobile centre which travels to remote areas. The latest annual report from the department said that the rollout is only partly complete, with a goal to open 14 centres.

The DED’s website states that “the purpose of the opportunity centres is to create an environment where entrepreneurs and small businesses can thrive”. Knott said that the centres provide help and advice on finances as well as tax returns, accounting and registration with the CIPC. Workers at these centres are not required to have any entrepreneurial experience themselves, according to the department’s job description.

They do not provide funding to clients, but they do assist with access to funding, mostly through the Gauteng Enterprise Propeller. According to assistant key accounts manager, Nomonde Zulu, access to funding can be secured by applying on the propellers website or by visiting one of their offices.

Including training, events and workshops, the centres have supported 14,294 entrepreneurs in the last financial year. This means that less than five entrepreneurs visit a centre per day. The department acknowledged this low number in their latest report and said it would be able to make more of an impact and reach more clients if they were granted a locomotive allowance. This request has been put forward in the past two financial years and denied due to no budget being available. The department is set to resubmit the request in the next financial year. 

Contrary to the statement provided, the financial performance of the department, which is listed in the same quarterly report, states that the department was granted an advertising budget of R1,084,000 for the last financial year but spent only R257,000 of it.

The complicated issue of informal trading 

Twenty one percent of the Johannesburg workforce is in what the DED refers to as a “thriving, vibrant informal sector”. MMC of the department in 2021 Lawrence Khoza said in his speech for the opening of the Joburg Market Opportunity Centre that the centres provide informal traders with, “non-financial assistance on how to formalise their businesses.” The policy on informal trading in Johannesburg boasts that the city supports informal traders in a way that is more progressive than others, “it looks good on paper,” said Doctor Mamokete Modiba, a senior researcher at the Gauteng City Region Observatory. 

“But there is a translation issue when it comes to practice,” she continued. The city has goals such as the “sharing of public space” and “the regulation of competition” as well as “enabling access to entrepreneurial activities.” In this regard, the opportunity centres exist to take members of the informal economy into the formal economy and provide advice on business growth so they might expand to create jobs and benefit the macro-economy. “On one hand this is effective because it gives resources and training to people with a specific focus on disadvantaged groups and disadvantaged areas,” said Modiba. 

“On the other hand, informal trade is not regarded as a real business by the City of Joburg, it is regarded as something they want to make into something else.” Modiba continued to say that not all informal traders have the ambition to become successful businesses. Some are simply survivalists who want to make enough money to keep bread on the table, and they need a different kind of support from the city. 

Sakhile Pehana is an informal fruit trader, who sells his fruit to passing cars at this
Linden intersection

Modiba suggested adequate services and infrastructure as an intervention strategy for the informal sector, “some traders have no shelter and then when it rains, they lose money because they can’t do their job. Others waste time looking for ablution facilities.” Louis Botha, a Parkview based entrepreneur, said that his main problem with running a business in Johannesburg is electricity. In running his mobile coffee business, Perfect Cup, he said, “I think our main challenge is power. With the loadshedding, at markets in particular, we constantly have to keep an eye on the Eskom schedules.”

The DED had budgeted R3,9 million towards the goal of allocating appropriate areas for informal traders in Joburg, but by the end of the 2022/2023 financial year, no areas were allocated and only R212,000 was spent towards informal trading.

In addition, the city emphasizes training for informal traders to improve their skillset through opportunity centres, however, Modiba states, this training can be inappropriate, “some people in the informal sector do not have an education, others are engineers, for example, who cannot find employment elsewhere. You cannot train someone on writing skills if they already have a degree in engineering.” 

The question of why the DED did not utilize the advertising budget allocated to them and the reasons behind the underspending as well as the failure of the informal trading project were brought to the department, but Wits Vuvuzela received no reply by the time of publishing. 

Entrepreneurs in Gauteng Race, sex and education

Other Johannesburg initiatives: Public-private partnerships

The Johannesburg opportunity centres perform an advisory role, however, a 2022 study by Bantu Majaja and Jabulile Msimango-Galawe on mapping the needs and challenges of SME’s in Johannesburg found through interviews with 1,099 entrepreneurs that the main challenges facing entrepreneurs in Johannesburg is the city’s spatial divide, access to suppliers and access to equipment. These are beyond the resources and capabilities of the opportunity centres, however, national and provincial government attempt to bridge these gaps by partnering with private sector companies and NGO’s in Joburg. 

Moses Mogotlane, manager of the Transnet Matlafatšo centre told Wits Vuvuzela that this centre, based at the University of the Witwatersrand, was started with access to equipment in mind.

This centre consists of two halves, the ideation space and the innovation space. The ideation space follows the same model as the opportunity centres of non-financial support. The innovation space, on the other hand, gives entrepreneurs access to equipment such as 3D printers, computers, software and woodwork machines. “All of this equipment has been made as simple as possible,” according to Mogotlane, who said that, “if you can use a computer, you can use the technology here.” 

The centre was built in partnership with the South African government owned enterprise, Transnet, who sponsored the operations until 2020. It became a popular innovative space for local entrepreneurs, “anytime you visited the centre, there were always people in the space, creating or thinking of ideas”, Said Mogotlane. 

In 2020, however, the contract between Transnet and the University of the Witwatersrand expired and was not renewed by Transnet. Since then, the centre has become absorbed into the Wits Innovation Centre and serves only the Wits community. The number of visitors to the centre has since been on the decline and in the month of September 2023, only 72 people visited the centre at all. 

In addition to this gap in support with regards to equipment, research by the Gauteng City Region Observatory found that historical inequalities continue to persist in the world of entrepreneurship in Johannesburg. In 2021, the percentage of entrepreneurs who are white increased from 10% in 2015 to 20% while the percentage of entrepreneurs who are African increased only from 7% to 15%. This is a trend which applies to gender and education as well.

In response to this, youth employment accelerator Harambee has turned their focus specifically onto young, African women in Johannesburg with lower levels of education in the hopes of bridging this historical divide. “We refer to it as make your own money” says Xolile Sepuru, programme manager at Harambee. 

According to Seperu, this programme consists of social media interaction to stimulate entrepreneurship, looking at a platform-based approach for young entrepreneurs as well as policy, incentives and licensing, “the goal is to remove the barriers to young people starting businesses,” said Seperu. The organization is supported through the Gauteng government. “I think the City of Joburg is doing a lot. They’re doing well in trying to bridge the gap and help entrepreneurs. What we need is for more private organizations to step in” he continued. 

FEATURED IMAGE: The Khoebo Opportunity Centre, based in Braamfontein, is temporarily located at the department of economic development’s building due to disrepair at their previous location. Photo: Kimberley Kersten


Water shortages are here to stay for Joburg residents

Why do we have these water challenges?

The Vaal River System gate where water is stored and flushed out when it reaches above capacity to allow for treatment and purification of more water. Water is then pumped through a series of water networks and piped into our homes.
Photo: Georgia Cartwright

Joburg: The city on edge

Johannesburg is famous for its fortunes and notorious for its crime. With millions in the city chasing a dream – are they adequately being kept safe?

FORTRESS JOBURG – High-raised walls with spikes and electric fencing, with surveillance from CCTV or unarmed private security guards like Cameron Fayindlala of 24/7 security – Johannesburg residents spend large amounts of money to guard themselves and their property. Photo: Seth Thorne

When the sun sets over the economic hub of South Africa, Johannesburg – do you feel safe? “No, I don’t – crime in Joburg [is] way too high,” said Rogers Risenga, a resident of Alexandra – one of the city’s hotspots for serious crimes. 

He is not alone – nearly eight in ten of the 6,2 million residents are estimated to be living with constant feelings of unsafety in the city, and who can blame them? Joburg consistently tops the list where the most serious crimes are reported in Gauteng province. Hearing of or falling victim to armed robberies, home break-ins, assaults, murders, and carjackings in the city is almost a daily occurrence. 

Crimes are not distributed evenly, with handfuls of areas across Joburg recording crime rates well above the city (and national) average. 

Regardless, instances of crime are prevalent citywide. The City of Johannesburg (COJ) plays a crucial role in developing and implementing localised solutions to crime. They outline that crime and a lack of safety are some of the biggest challenges faced by residents. In response, a City Safety Strategy was created, but last revised in 2016/17. It outlines that the responsibility of creating a safe city does not sit solely on the shoulders of local government – but involves the whole of society.  

A “multi-agency collaboration” approach has been adopted, but are they currently effective if a large majority of the residents feel so unsafe? By identifying and contextualising (some of) these different sectors, the question is asked – is everyone pulling their weight? Why? What (are just some) of the solutions if not? 

Examples of crime statistics where Johannesburg consistently tops national average. Photo: Seth Thorne

The national structure tasked with protecting civilians and combating crime is the South African Police Service (SAPS) – with 44 stations located in the city.  SAPS has a feigning perception for a number of reasons, including but not limited to perceptions of corruption and underperformance from detective units. 

This is not to discredit pockets of commendable policing work. Statistically, SAPS are short-staffed (over 80 thousand under their ideal target), poorly resourced (26% of police vehicles are not operational) and underperforming investigative capacities. “It usually takes [SAPS] three or four hours (at least) to arrive on the scene of a crime after we have contacted them,” said community policing volunteer Deidre De Carvalho.

“When cases are actually opened, they are [often] not investigated properly” – or at all, explained Lizette Lancaster, project manager at the Institute for Security Studies. A sentiment echoed by interviewees across the security sector. 

SAPS were consistently contacted for comment; however, communication went cold.

At a local level, the COJ has a plan to “reduce crime by 50% in the 40 worst crime hotspots”. This will largely fall under the mandate of the department of public safety.

Interactive map highlighting Johannesburg policing precincts that record some of the highest national serious crime statistics. Map: Seth Thorne

Joburg is one of six municipalities to have their own police service – the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD), established due to “high levels of crime and grime” and a “lack of confidence in policing” according to their homepage.  

They “largely respond to high levels of serious crimes, like robbery and assault,” said JMPD superintendent Xolani Fihla. “We work in support of the national police – we do not have things like stations to hold suspects or crime intelligencem” he added.

Thousands of trained and armed JMPD officers are deployed by local government across the most populated municipality in South Africa to combat crime, enforce the city’s by-laws, and police traffic in the city. Photo: Seth Thorne.

Brewing in the department of public safety’s pot is the establishment of two new crime prevention and combatting units designed for serious crimes in the city. These are the JMPD armed tactical reaction unit, as well as a regional crime combatting and prevention unit. On November 10, 2023, these were officially launched by the MMC for public safety, Dr Mgcini Tshwaku, as part of the city’s #FightingCrimeManjeNamhlanje project. 

“We are going to use all means necessary to find these criminals” said Tshwaku in an interview with Newsroom Afrika. “We want to send a message with these units, that [we] will not be negotiating with criminals,” he added.

Apart from SAPS, JMPD partners with other security sectors like private security, crime prevention wardens, patrollers, and community policing. “Everyone needs to move together… more boots on the ground to help tackle crime,” said Fihla. In interviews with other stakeholders, they commended the responsiveness of JMPD when needed.

Additionally, in mayor Kabelo Gwamanda’s 2023 State of the Council Address, he said that the city plans on increasing the CCTV monitoring sector through partnerships with the private sector and through their own Integrated Intelligence Operations Centre (IIOC). Fihla explained that the JMPD undercover unit works closely with the IIOC, who inform them of crimes or by-law enforcement incidents that had been picked up in the control room.

Gwamanda also plans to recruit approximately 2 000 crime wardens to (as provincial police commissioner Elias Mawela describes them) “serve as the eyes and ears” of the police and JMPD.

Crime wardens have been a pervasive feature of recent provincial politics. There have been thousands of three-month trained wardens deployed as part of a R1.5 billion program announced by Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi earlier this year. 

The wardens make use of (sometimes armed) patrols, stop and searches and expensive equipment like drones, CCTV cameras, helicopters and fast cars. In his presentation of Gauteng’s most recent crime statistics, Mawela said that he believes it is too early to judge crime wardens’ performance.

Currently, it is facing questions about the legality of its formation, as well as accusations about these wardens having a heavy-handed approach to tackling crime – brutalizing suspects in the process. This stems from the possibility of poor crime prevention training and a lack of a vetting process in appointments.

Ultimately, all sectors are heavily reliant on the work of SAPS to see out the wheels of justice. It is only SAPS that can legally detain suspects, investigate, and open dockets of cases. 

“I appeal to the leadership of SAPS [to work together with the COJ], [because] people are really in trouble and crying out about crime. The only thing that JMPD can do is to arrest, but in terms of detention, investigation, and writing of dockets, that is still the function of the SAPS. So, we must forge a relationship,”  said Dr Tshwaku in his interview with Newsroom Afrika.

Noteworthy statistics of three major safety and security sectors – SAPS, JMPD and the private security – operating within Johannesburg. Infographics: Seth Thorne

A walk or drive around suburban Joburg shows the heavy investments by residents to protect themselves. From armed guards, and CCTV cameras, to high-raised walls with electric fencing. 

“Classical policing functions are today being accomplished through private security rather than the police service,“ said Doraval Govender and Professor Krisandren Pillay in their critical evaluation of policing.

However, the cost of safety in this industry is open to the highest bidder.  It is a service that prevents, picks up on, and responds to crimes committed against their clients. “Private security is expensive…People pay because they know we will be there when they call,” said Francois Marais, CEO of Randburg-based private security company Ghost Squad.

“With private security being a luxury only wealthy citizens can afford, there is a concern that this industry [could] widen the inequality gap – namely leaving those most directly affected by crime most vulnerable” said Professor Pillay, in his inaugural lecture on private security. 

They work very closely with communities, sometimes at the expense of innocent individuals on the other side of the fence that residents did not like the look of and shared such on their community WhatsApp group. 

Being well-resourced, private security are often first respondents to scenes.

There are also legal limitations in their duties, relying on the police force to respond efficiently if a crime is suspected to have or has been committed. But, after interviews with multiple security providers, this has (largely) not been the case.

“A couple of my employees (security guards) were held hostage by criminals. To this day police have not even taken statements,” said Eben Hulley, head of E&B Guarding, a private security company that operates in Johannesburg south.

Crime most affects communities themselves, and thus the public is critical in combatting it. They are better informed about what is happening around them and more willing to protect their areas. 

“We want to use the broken window theory – getting rid of visible crime will discourage more crime from being committed,” said Community Policing Forum (CPF) member, Deidre De Carvalho.

CPFs were set up to build a working relationship between the national police and communities. Volunteers, like De Carvalho joined “to take ownership and start protecting [their] community”.  

They work with other residents, private security, patrollers/guards who are registered with CPFs, and governmental security agencies. They perform patrols and consistent communication with the mentioned partners to locate, prevent and intervene in crime – working with the police station of their area. These are similar to the functions of neighbourhood watch groups.

When it comes the working relationships, “It depends on how good the SAPS station commander is, as some are extremely keen on working with other sectors like private security – but others refuse… luckily our station commander is good with that,” said De Carvalho.

Like all other sectors, these groups face legal limitations in how they can respond to crime and their effectiveness lies in the responsiveness of other security sectors. They rely on governmental security services to respond when a crime has been identified. “CPFs and security companies are guaranteed to get there before SAPS,” said De Carvalho. “We have to cordon areas off for hours until SAPS arrives.” 

Areas that largely cannot afford private security, with less prominent CPFs and underperformance of other security sectors sees a rise of, as Lancaster describes, “self-help groups” of people carrying weapons to feel safer and protect their areas. 

However, these sometimes morph into vigilante or criminal extortion groups of their own – charging/extorting protection money from the community. These arise because “police are seen as absent and cannot be trusted” by residents said Lancaster.

Research shows that if the public trusts the police and feels that they are fair, people are more likely to comply, report crimes and share crucial information that would be of use for police investigations and tip-offs. However, there is a trust deficit between the public and the national police force. 

Safety policies at the national level coincide greatly with local and provincial public policies. These have included increased budgetary spending, more boots on the ground and aggressive policing approaches. Aggressive policing strategies can strain the trust between government law enforcement and communities.

Governmental agencies have been documented brutalising communities because of these aggressive policing policies stemming from political focuses. “Doing a raid on informal traders is not going to stop crime because you are taking food out the mouths of their families” explained Lancaster. 

“If [these policies] are done correctly, people may feel safe… but they are often done badly leading people to mistrust law enforcement”. 

lizette lancaster

Every single possession belonging to these families covers this street in the Johannesburg CBD as police conduct a raid of an alleged hijacked building – a prevalent issue on the agenda of Johannesburg police. Photo: Seth Thorne

Numerous organisations play important roles in safety through research, data collection and analysis for the public. One such research organisation is the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), which assists the COJ in the formation of its safety strategy. 

An important part of tackling crime is understanding where and when crimes occur to create targeted policing. However, as Lancaster describes, the politicization of crime statistics has made it difficult to collect accurate data to pinpoint and combat crime.

The trust deficit can be seen in fewer victims of crime reporting them to police. Johannesburg proudly boasts a 62% decrease in recorded sexual assault crimes since 2005/6. However, this rather represents a declining confidence in reporting such cases to the police or a lack of responsiveness – not in the crime itself.

“Politicians… and worse yet the police are scared that they will be judged and punished – which leads to terribly perverse incentives. Especially sexual violence, people are not reporting it because (apart from stigmatisation) police actively dissuade [victims] because they are scared that they are going to be criticised and disciplined for [recording high crime statistics in their precinct],” explained Lancaster. 

As shown, numerous agencies work hard to counter crime. As more boots are put on the ground in other sectors, legally, all rely on the national police force to respond timeously and effectively for justice to run its course in both accusations and actual crimes. However, constraints and underperformance at SAPS illustrated by the responses indicate that this is often not the case.

David Bruce, a South African criminology expert, calls for police to implement less nationally focused policing strategies. Delegating some policing powers to provincial and municipal police departments could greatly help curb crime because there are “major variations in how violence is distributed across the city”. 

Additionally, there needs to be an improvement in the overall responsiveness of SAPS to scenes, as well as the effectiveness of their investigations.

Curbing crime involves the whole of society and policies should reflect that. To involve society, the working relationship, as well as the trust deficit between police, communities, and other actors, need to be improved to allow for more accurate data to be recorded, and better police intelligence. 

Overall – there are many actors and partnerships that are crucial to curbing crime – all with their pros and cons.  An incohesive working relationship between them both impacts crime and hinders justice. This mostly affects the everyday residents, like Rogers Risenga, who live in worry about the high levels of crime in the city. Working together can change that.