Where are the leaders? did they not follow up their projects – no – they don’t care.
18 years later – still no Alexandra project. Tau’s successor as Johannesburg mayor, Herman Mashaba, said that the city will launch a probe to determine what happened to the money set aside for the project aimed at addressing urbanisation and housing challenges in the area. The former Johannesburg Mayor Parks Tau says that money set aside for the Alex Renewal Project was used appropriately.
“A specific audit was done by the Auditor-General on the project and no maladministration was found in that particular audit. So, to suggest that the money was not spent on development is inappropriate.” Tau also said that he is happy with the contribution he made when he was mayor. “We look at developments in, amongst other things, Ivory Park, we look in Diepsloot and there’s a whole range of other developments and I think we did a great job.”
On 13 May 2019 over a hundred community members of Alexandra township came out to East Bank Hall, Alexandra, on Monday to share their grievances about service delivery and the mushrooming of illegal structures with the South African Human Rights Commission. The inquiry was done in partnership between the commission and the public protector’s office. It focused on the social and economic conditions of people living in the century-old township, and the impact that problems have on people’s human rights.
Its establishment follows the #AlexTotalShutdown protests in April, where residents protested against the poor service delivery in the township and issues surrounding provision of housing. During the protests, residents shed light on the failed Alexandra Renewal Project, which had an alleged allocated budget of R1.3-billion.
The project was launched by the government in 2001, with the aim of changing infrastructure, the economy and the social environment of the township.
Everyone from local, provincial and national government to the private sector, non-governmental organisations and community-based groups were involved.
But, according to residents, the money from the project cannot be accounted for because nothing has been done. The human rights commission and public protector inquiry on Monday started with Sandile Mavundla, the convener of the #AlexTotalShutdown movement, and its spokesperson, Bobby Solomons.
Solomons said that the protest was started as a last resort, after the movement had tried other ways to get the attention of the City of Johannesburg. According to him, the movement marched to the City’s regional offices in Sandton in February of this year, where they handed in a memorandum with their complaints. Solomons says they never heard back from the City. Solomons listed failures of service delivery, from waste management to maintenance of roads and electricity provision, as well as the building of shacks in dangerous areas such as riverbanks as big problems.
New homes, and who gets them, are also a contentious issue. Solomons said: “When government gives housing, the first people to get these houses are those living in hazardous areas. Bonafide residents who have Form-C’s from the 90’s don’t get houses.”
Form-C’s are forms used by applicants as proof that they applied for RDP houses.
Mavundla spent a great deal of time refuting claims that the #AlexTotalShutdown movement has any political affiliation, and that the protest was being used by parties to wage war against each other ahead of elections. “The movement is about and for all the people who have an interest in the development of Alexandra. Members from all political parties joined the movement. The City of Joburg must stop hiding behind politics and assist us with service delivery.”
Another resident, Abednego Matu, told the commission that the government does put money into the township but that the way this is done is flawed. “Government is trying but the system they are using does not reach the people on the ground.” Matu suggested that the government consider a bottom-up strategic approach to ensure that the poor of the poorest in Alex benefit. “The government must consider the people on the ground because they are the ones who know what’s going wrong in the township. The government gives money but it stops at the top with councillors and those others high up, it doesn’t reach the bottom.” Matu said.
Terms of reference
The terms of reference of the inquiry, according to the commission’s provincial manager Buang Jones, are that:
The inquiry will investigate and make recommendations on whether there are violations of the rights contained in the Bill of Rights, improper conduct and maladministration as related to persons in Alexandra;
The commission and the public protector will further investigate the causes behind the protest and how the different spheres of government have dealt with grievances relating to the provision of services in the township;
Investigate whether the City of Johannesburg has engaged meaningfully and in good faith with the community in relation to the provision of municipal services and
Probe whether the alleged R1.3-billion budget allocated to the Alexandra Renewal Project was utilised for the purpose for which it was intended.
12 April 2019
In the corner of Ntombi Dlamini’s room is a wooden box. She keeps everything she owns in it, all neatly squeezed in. She pulls out a folder that is filed in between her clothing. It’s where Dlamini keeps her identity document, her résumé and other important papers. She used to keep her dompas in that same file. Dlamini pages through to find one of her old C Forms, as the application for a housing subsidy is known. She has filled out six of these since 1996. The 59-year-old, who has lived in Alexandra township, Johannesburg, her whole life, longs for her own home. This is why she supports the #AlexShutDown movement, she says.
“I feel very happy, because now I can see where we are going,” Dlamini says of the protests, which kicked off last Wednesday. “Maybe if we can stand up, all of us, the ANC will be forced to look at Alexandra. They mustn’t just take us like parcels, parcels that they can just throw away.” Earlier in the day, Dlamini and two other women from the neighbourhood — Siphokazi Funo and Lienetia Khorombi — braved the heat to try to get an audience with Gauteng Premier David Makhura. On Tuesday, Makhura and the Gauteng MEC for human settlements, Uhuru Moiloa, met members of the #AlexShutDown committee for two hours before a 10.30am media briefing at the Altrec sports complex.
The media briefing was closed to the public, so the only glimpse the three women got of Makhura was of him driving away in a motorcade of black SUVs. At the briefing, Makhura brushed off the idea that the #AlexShutDown protests are linked to the slow rolling out of housing in the township. Instead, he emphasised the problems posed by illegal occupations.
On Sunday, Democratic Alliance Gauteng premier candidate Solly Msimanga laid criminal charges against the ANC for allegedly inciting violence in the protests. Makhura also dismissed these claims. Alexandra’s residents say they are not interested in the political battle between the two parties. And, as the countdown to the national elections ticks on, many of them say they would not know who to vote for. Talk of politics gets Funo worked up, her ire against the governing party spilling through her red-lipsticked lips. “I don’t want the ANC. I don’t. My party is the ANC, but I don’t want the ANC right now,” she says. Every now and then her eyes dart to Dlamini for affirmation.
The ANC is in Dlamini’s blood. Her father was a member of the ANC, so her own support of the party was automatic, she says. But her attempts to secure a housing subsidy have shaken her loyalty. “When you go to the department of housing, they just tell you: ‘Go to town.’ When you get to town they say: ‘Just go and wait.’ They say they will phone you. “We don’t have houses, but we are always voting ANC,” Dlamini adds, repeating “ANC” three times to the beat of an internal drum. Khorombi is quiet. She rents a small room off 13th Avenue. Her body brushes both walls as she makes her way through the maze of alleys on the way there.
There isn’t much more space inside: a compact bed competes for room with a fridge, an electric stove top, pots and pans. The fridge, decorated with Jesus stickers, does not work. Khorombi has lived in this tiny room for five years and in Alex since 1996. She moved therefrom Venda when she got married, but her husband left her and their four children. She says the township hasn’t changed at all in the time she has lived there. Dlamini agrees: “It’s the same. Really it’s the same.”
“The only change we have seen is electricity, because before there was no electricity,” Khorombi adds. The dark lines of her pencilled-in eyebrows hardly move when she speaks. “It won’t change,” Funo interjects. “Councillors and the mayor eat money. Finished.” Khorombi says all she wants is a bigger space to live in and a job to help her support her children. “Then I can make something for them,” the 45-year-old says.
Another disgruntled resident, Mumsey Zitha (39), is also preoccupied with the well being of her children. She lives in a shack settlement, colloquially known as Silvertown, on the edge of the Jukskei River. The people living in this areawere moved there 14 years ago to open up land for the Alex Mall. Residents say they were promised RDP housing when they were relocated. “It’s like we’re living in a dump,” Zitha says, the whites of her eyes glistening.“It feels like we are going to die here.”
The ground is still wet from Monday’s rains. Zitha says her family doesn’t sleep when it rains. “We just stand watching where the water comes through the roof,” she says, standing in the doorway of her zinc home. “I am always worried,” she says.“I sometimes sit and imagine myself in a better place, where, if it rains, I can sleep. I can’t say I’ve ever been relaxed.” As Zitha talks, a group of residents — mostly older women — congregate around her. Zitha says they feel defeated, because their complaints over the years have seemingly gone unheard. “I can say that I am angry with the ANC. I am angry with the DA and the EFF [Economic Freedom Fighters]. All the politicians. Because I haven’t seen any changes,” Zitha says. “None of them have done anything.We are about to vote and we don’t know who to vote for.”
Zitha says she feels she and her two children won’t be free as long as they live in Silvertown. “The promises of the new South Africa have been broken,” she says. On the other side of the Jukskei River, Dlamini echoes this sentiment. She lives in a house built by her mother, who is now in her 80s, in 1998. The two-bedroom house was never completed and its wooden rafters remain exposed. “I am not free right now because I cannot do anything. This house is not my place, yet I am old,” she says, her eyes welling up with tears. “I feel like I am an outsider.”
Organisers deny political allegiance claims
Members of the #AlexShutDown committee have denied allegations that they are part of a political battle between the ANC and the Democratic Alliance. #AlexShutDown spokesperson Bobby Solomons said he believes Alexandra is more politically open than it is being made out to be. “Of course we can only tell for sure after the elections, but for me Alex is split,” he said. Solomons refused to give credence to claims that #AlexShutDown protests were incited by the ANC.“This narrative that it is the ANC influencing people.Are you telling me that Alex residents are not able to think for themselves? The people who live here are adults.” Sandile Mavundla, another #AlexShutDown committee member, agreed. “This thing of political affiliation, I am not going to entertain. I’m not even familiar with politics.” Mavundla said the protests did not happen out of the blue. They were initially planned for March to coincide with Human Rights Month, but they were postponed while the committee endeavoured to get other stakeholders — including a taxi association and business owners — on board. The committee only informed ANC ward councillors about their plan on the eve of the protests, Mavundla said. “We told them that we’ll be taking this route. It is either you [the councillors] are with us as a community or against us,” he said.
9 June 2001
On the eve of a historic state visit to Britain, President Thabo Mbeki on Saturday rolled up his sleeves, planted a tree and launched the R1,3 billion Alexandra renewal project, a sweeping plan to regenerate the urban slum in Johannesburg that borders an affluent neighbour, Sandton.
When he arrived at the Alexandra stadium Mbeki was met by enthusiastic residents as they tried to grasp his hand through the mesh-wire fence surrounding the venue. The renewal project is seen as a blueprint for urban reconstruction throughout the country. But Mbeki and his cabinet colleagues faced sharp criticism for shunning the funeral of 12-year-old Aids activist Nkosi Johnson at the Central Methodist church in Johannesburg.
“I don’t care what position you take in this debate on Aids. I don’t care what position you take on anti-retroviral drugs, just show this country, show these children some compassion,” said Reverend Mvume Dandala, the presiding bishop of the Methodist church in southern Africa, in a clear reference to the government. The government was represented at the funeral by Bongani Khumalo, the presidential adviser on HIV and Aids. “This young boy lived only a dozen years but his impact is profound,” Khumalo said. In Alexandra, Mbeki made no reference to the subject of Johnson or HIV and Aids but he touched on the upgrading of health facilities in hospitals such as the Edenvale hospital and the construction of an additional clinic.
“We will ensure that especially women and children have access to health,” said Mbeki. “No more will people have to travel long distances to hospitals in Tembisa or Johannesburg for treatment when they have a hospital at their doorsteps.” Alexandra, one of Johannesburg’s oldest residential areas, escaped forced removal in the 1980s after international protests against apartheid removals.
The township is severely overcrowded. About 350 000 people are packed into a radius of 5,5 square kilometres. Although the government has raised the standard of living since 1994 – installing proper sanitation in many areas as well as running water, electricity, telephones and street lights – there are still complaints that services are sporadic. There are still areas where 20 families share a single yard and a single tap and heavy rains result in the flooding of houses and raw sewerage can be seen in the streets.
Earlier on Saturday the Gauteng premier, Mbhazima Shilowa, pledged that his government would build 66 000 houses in Alexandra over the next seven years and that 20 000 of the units would be built in areas adjoining the existing township. Departing from his prepared speech, Mbeki told a packed Alexandra stadium that the purpose of the struggle fought by many South Africans had not been to ensure that he and his cabinet drove around in Mercedes Benz cars.
“It was to make sure that the people of Alexandra eradicate poverty.” In his speech, Mbeki said that over a seven-year period government would deliver roads, water, sanitation, schools and clinics, and build police stations. “We shall ensure that safety and security become a living reality for the people of Alexandra and that no one need live in fear of violence,” Mbeki said. At one point he broke into Xhosa to say that he disapproved of the fact that people continued to live on top of each other in shacks “like chickens”. “When we said we wanted a better life for all the people of South Africa we meant the people of Alex as well.”
The police and army were out in full force for the Mbeki visit. Armed soldiers lined the streets and armoured vehicles were on standby. Mbeki has a special status in Alexandra as the son-in-law of the township through his marriage to Zanele, his wife, who was born in the township. Mbeki was presented with a blanket to symbolise his betrothal to Alexandra. Mbeki was accompanied by several senior government officials including local government minister Sydney Mufamadi, the minister in the presidency, Essop Pahad, the minister of sport, Ngconde Balfour, and the director-general in the presidency, Frank Chikane.
For much of his tour of the township Mbeki walked clutching the hand of six-year-old Mutanwa Mufamadi, son of the minister. Mbeki’s visit was part of an all-day celebration in the township that included a music concert featuring Bayete, Flaming Souls and the African Jazz Pioneers.