‘The development of Alex has been arrested’ inquiry hears

Over a hundred members of the Alexandra township community came out to East Bank Hall, Alex, 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 tornship, 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.

READ MORE: Despair drives #AlexShutDown

During the protests, residents shed light on the failed Alexandra Renewal Project, which had an alleged allocated budget of R1.6-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. Bona fide 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. 
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