Mboweni's budget squeeze could hit Joburg hardest

For the City of Johannesburg to lay claim to its "World Class African City" slogan, it would require an economic and political stroke of genius to re-engineer and re-imagine its path ahead, the writer says.
For the City of Johannesburg to lay claim to its "World Class African City" slogan, it would require an economic and political stroke of genius to re-engineer and re-imagine its path ahead, the writer says.
Image: Felix Lipov/123RF STOCK PHOTO

The City of Johannesburg (CoJ) metro municipality could be hit the hardest by finance minister Tito Mboweni's supplementary budget squeeze announced last week.

He told parliament that the national government revenue will increase by R32bn while municipalities would have to make do with a mere R7bn rise.

"Municipalities will adjust their budgets to take into account the sharp decline in revenue as a result of the [Covid-19] pandemic. We urge communities to hold councils accountable for the spending of Covid-19 funds," he advised.

However, Covid-19 has only worsened the health of our bedridden economy. In April, S&P downgraded SA's credit rating into non-investment grade territory. It projects SA's economy to shrink by 4.5% this year.

Amidst this gloom, Johannesburg, the country's economic hub, closed comments on its Integrated Development Plans (IDPs) last week mutely. IDPs help municipalities to co-ordinate the work of local and other spheres of government in a coherent plan to improve quality of life for residents.

Governed by a fragile political consensus, having changed hands from the DA's coalition led by political novice Herman Mashaba to the ANC's "unity" government; facing both the impact of Covid-19 and economic misfortunes, the CoJ's 2020/21 IDP process is its most important in history. For it to lay claim to its "World Class African City" slogan, it would require an economic and political stroke of genius to re-engineer and re-imagine its path ahead.

In the coming two financial-years, or even more, if those who run CoJ hope to keep the city economically alive, they must pay attention to its poor residents. The city's marginalised and hugely patient and benevolent black township-based residents hold the key to its success on the one hand, and a ticking time-bomb on the other.

The city's plans must help revive and grow township informal economy. This will require real partnerships with the people. It might mean the return of informal enterprises such as spaza shops, car repairs, internet cafés, tailors, hair salons and restaurants into the hands of locals.

The kindness of township residents has been stretched to the absolute limit. Every traditional township business has been taken away from them by either retail corporates or foreign nationals.

Erratic electricity supply and rampant credit control cutoffs exacerbate this dire situation. The city, like the rest of the country, is on the verge of an energy crisis. City fathers and mothers must attune themselves to the global notion that "economic growth in the modern world is fuelled by energy".

This is truer for Johannesburg, especially in relation to its poorer parts such as Alexandra, Orange Farm, Dieploot and Soweto. The growing Eskom electricity debt in these areas is not only detrimental to the city's economic growth, it is actually a revenue impediment. Even worse, it is a rising economic and social crisis of tsunami proportions.

Finally, and most importantly, city leaders must look microscopically at residents' security. The spike in contact crimes such as murder, rape, hijacking, robbery and business robberies just after the announcement of level-4 and 3 of lockdown regulations would soon be a Sunday picnic in comparison to the growing tide of crime.

Perhaps time has arrived for the government to trust residents as partners in combating crime. It is the municipality that might yield great benefits by working with the communities to establish local security and justice partnerships.

*Xaba is the spokesperson of Greater Johannesburg region of uMkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association

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