/ 17 January 2024

City of Joburg still waiting for Bree explosion to be declared a disaster to get funding

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The remnants of Bree Street. (Scott Peter Smith/M&G)

The City of Johannesburg is still waiting on the National Disaster Management Centre to declare the gas explosion on Lilian Ngoyi Street (formerly Bree Street) in the city centre a disaster, before it can access funding for reconstruction. 

Last week, the city said it invested R196 million in the reconstruction of the road. This, it said, was based on the detailed design work and bidding process that the city had undertaken “to test the market for the best and available prices for the construction”.

The methane gas explosion took place in July, ripping up the road, killing one person and leaving several others injured. 

Responding to questions on the funding, the city said it restructured its budget to begin the construction work on the road.

“It is critical for the city not to delay the implementation of rehabilitation works. As such, the city had to rebase its budget to avail the required funds for this critical infrastructure and will mobilise additional resources in the budget adjustment period to cover the costs of the project,” said deputy director of media relations, Nthatisi Modingoane.

Six months into reconstruction efforts, the city said a contractor and a technical team had been appointed and officials were in the process of “formalising an application to declare the affected area a disaster zone”.

The announcement comes after the Democratic Alliance (DA) inspected the scene last week to follow up on claims that there had been no progress on repairs. 

“It is utterly perplexing that neither a single worker nor city official was present at the site during our visit,” said DA Johannesburg caucus leader Belinda Kayser-Echeozonjoku.

The opposition party said that during its oversight visit, city officials appeared to be faking their productivity.

“After an hour of inactivity, our mere presence prompted a flurry of actions by city officials, who accomplished nothing beyond appearing busy,” read a statement by the DA.

But according to the city, it has been in the planning and design stage since August 2023. Official work on the reconstruction of the road only began on 11 January 2024, it said.

“Simultaneously, the city has submitted a disaster declaration application, seeking funding for the rehabilitation work. Despite the ongoing finalisation process with the province, recognising the urgency, the city has reallocated its budget to expedite rehabilitation efforts,” said executive mayor Kabelo Gwamanda.

The construction project will be overseen by the Johannesburg Roads Agency through a seven-stage process and is expected to be completed in December 2024 — within the 18-month deadline set by the city in October 2023.

“We were very clear from the onset that we would waste no time in ensuring that we act with diligence and speed to ensure the speedy implementation of the supply chain management processes that would allow us to commence with the rehabilitation work,” Gwamanda said.

But ActionSA said it doubts that the road will be fixed in the stipulated timeline.  

“We are not convinced as the ActionSA caucus that this project will be completed within 18 months; we were not furnished with the information on where the money will come from rather than being assured that the money will be redirected to assist in this project — it is a known secret that the city’s balance sheet is not healthy,” said ActionSA’s Khomotjo Mashala.

Shop owners and vendors in the vicinity said the street closure had affected their businesses. 

“Bree Street used to be busy at all hours of the day, that is how I used to make money selling my snacks, but now I had to move my station after the explosion to an area which I am not very familiar with,” said a vendor. 

Although stores in the area are open, a shopkeeper said business had slowed down since the explosion because traffic had been diverted.

“It used to be busy because Park Station is right down the road, but now because most taxis do not come to this side, business is slow and it has been a few months since the explosion. It was a scary time for us, but we kept the shop open,” said the shopkeeper.