Several months back, President Cyril Ramaphosa spoke of an opportunity to reset the economy in the wake of the serious economic damage caused by the overarching coronavirus pandemic. Can the economic hub of South Africa heed this call and come up with programmes that can be implemented within the medium term to benefit those who most need it?

SA Business Integrator spoke to Councillor Jolidee Matongo, member of the Mayoral Committee for Finance, a key portfolio which impacts on the full spectrum of municipal services and programmes, about the scope of the City’s socio-economic revival programmes post-COVID.

South Africa’s City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality is positioned as the economic heartland of South Africa and has over many decades been known as eGoli, the City of Gold.

Geographically, the municipality covers an area of 1 645km2, stretching from Orange Farm in the south to Midrand in the north. The city is organised into seven regions, named Regions A – G, which have varying degrees of socio-economic development, reflective of the people living within their suburbs and the legacy of the apartheid system. Of these, regions A and G are the most urgently in need of social development and upliftment.

The City has projected high impact programmes and financial investments into these regions to revive socio-economic development, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic which has targeted all South Africans, but especially the poor and unemployed.

Infrastructure development: Focusing the large numbers

Major investment for infrastructure to the level of R1.1 billion is targeted at regions A and G, which are areas identified by the poverty/deprivation map developed by the City. This includes the building of homes, provision of water, tarring of roads and the upgrading of water and sewer systems; also creating jobs.

In addition to this, there is a further R1.2 billion investment planned for the upgrade of informal settlements across the entire City.

“Across almost all areas of Jo’burg, there exist informal settlements, so we are investing this considerable sum into upgrading them”, explains Matongo.

A medium-term operating budget of R12.8 billion is being rolled out over three years so that the City can continue to provide water, electricity and sanitation services across the City.

“All City residents will be targeted by these particular investments into infrastructure”, he adds. A good example of such a new project is the large investment to upgrade the northern sewer works.

Comprehensive response to COVID pandemic

A dedicated budget has assisted an approved health response to COVID-19, including screening and testing of citizens and the continuation of municipal services during lockdown. As a result of the spread of the virus among City staff providing certain key services, the City has provided a programme where service providers can step in and provide vital services in cases where a critical service facility has been shut down due to workers falling ill from COVID-19.

“For instance, a depot may have to close because workers contract COVID-19 and the staff are sent home,” Matongo explains. “We must admit there has been a decline in the roads infrastructure because the Johannesburg Roads Agency (JRA) services have not been classified as essential under South Africa’s State of Disaster regulations during Levels 5, 4 and 3 of the pandemic. For example, there are traffic lights not working, and potholes have not been attended to for the longest time. Now under Level 2 regulations, the JRA is permitted to go back to work.”

Construction and completion of clinics

In addition to the infrastructure upgrades, the existing 70 – 80 City clinics have been insufficient to cope with the COVID pandemic, so these are being augmented under the budget. A good example is the Orchards Clinic, a state-of-the-art primary health care facility that will offer greatly improved health care services to residents of Orange Grove and neighbouring suburbs.

Making a difference to the people: Free wi-fi

R45 million has already been committed to the free wi-fi service across the metropole. However, the pandemic and lockdown has further stimulated the need for such a service, not least of all enabling office workers to work from home.

“Our July budget has committed a further R40 million to this budget to ensure employees of the City, any employed person of critical importance, and students, to work from their homes during lockdown. It will also help the unemployed to search online for job opportunities without having to buy data. For example, the Braamfontein Mesh, servicing the area where I stay, assists students at the university and technical colleges within the City, as well as people living in the suburb. The new budget will ensure that at least 70% of the Wards are covered,” says Matongo.

“In addition, private infrastructure providers have come on board, where the necessary wayleaves can be expedited by the City to enable broadband service provision to paying consumers to continue, in exchange for providing free access to broadband for schools and public facilities in the area.

“Other places targeted by our wi-fi rollout include hostels, council housing and places of care or homes for the elderly. We do not discriminate against the elderly in this process,” he adds.  The ability to link via a video chat on WhatsApp or Skype could make a huge difference to inhabitants of these facilities who are locked down and isolated.

Mass transport investments

For over a decade, the Rea Vaya bus rapid transport (BRT) service has assisted hundreds of thousands of commuters get to work and back home. With dedicated road lane privileges, the journey is much quicker, safer and also cheaper. Therefore, as citizens return to work, this service will receive 200 additional buses by April next year.

“Phase 1C of Rea Vaya will be activated right along the Louis Botha corridor to Sandton and the building of the infrastructure, consisting of lanes and stations, is already underway, including wi-fi services,” says Matongo.

“SMME involvement is also stimulated by this process by our requiring sub-contracting (by the larger companies) to larger service providers, expanded public works programmes and also the provision of security, wi-fi and cleaning services for the bus services. We will ensure that overall, SMMEs get a 30% share of the planned R1.1 billion investments into regions A and G.”

Longer term: Housing development and upgrades

“We are identifying mega-investments for housing and will strive to integrate communities,” says Matongo. “The City’s Southern Farms Development just outside Eldorado Park, is one of the key projects. In that huge space, we aim for 20 000 housing units – R30 billion over the next 10 years. Half a billion rand is also being spent over the short term in preparing the land.”

“We will also ensure those SMME contractors who have been part of the programmes and have moved up the CIDB scales from Level 1 to Levels 5 or 6, will get a share of the action,” he adds.

Electricity maintenance and refurbishment

Matongo explains that one of the problems is that the supply to 40% of the city’s population who live in Soweto is undertaken by Eskom directly.

“The City is hence working with Eskom, seeking to ensure the continuous supply of power to the residents, investing in electricity infrastructure and also trying to increase the output from the independent Kelvin Power Station to supply additional kilowatts. It is our desire that over the next few years that the whole of the City should be supplied by City Power via Egoli Gas, solar and other forms of energy”.

 “City Power needs to be an energy company of the City that provides not only electricity but gas and other forms of energy to the residents.” – Councillor Jolidee Matongo.

Pikitup system – ward-to-ward waste management

Matongo says Pikitup’s budget will employ at least 15 people per ward to clean the City’s streets and also embark on civic education programmes about the environment. This will also stimulate the SMME sector and promote employment opportunities.

“Employees of the Pikitup system will also identify hotspot areas where people are dumping illegally. The budget for this is around this R170 million,” he adds.

Service augmentation from ward to ward – employment opportunity

Ten individuals per ward (1 350 in total) will shortly be employed as augmented service workers to supplement the work by City departments and agencies. These will include emergency traffic management, and cleaning services, and identifying households in distress from a social welfare perspective.

“We expect these augmented service workers to be the eyes and ears of the City relating to service delivery failures. Their efforts will be coordinated by a formally structured department within the City’s administration,” Matongo concludes.

This article was published in partnership with Media Xpose.

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