City needs billions it does not have to save infrastructure

The City of Johannesburg has come clean about another crisis it’s facing – crumbling infrastructure. Executive Mayor Herman Mashaba called it the end of a cliff that is fast approaching.

“We had an idea of the challenges that confronted our City, but the truth is that what we encountered was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg,” he said at a press briefing on 7 November.

Over and above battling the infamous billing crisis, the City also has to deal with this R170 billing infrastructure backlog. The mayor said he wanted to be honest with the public about the real state the City is in since he believes no one really knew how bad it is.

Indeed, the Johannesburg Roads Agency alone needs R81,5 billion over 10 years to fix its problems. It does not have it.

City Power needs R17 billion to fix aged transformers and replace overhead cables that are so prone to theft. It does not have it.

Johannesburg Water needs R12,64 billion. It does not have it. 

The City does, however, have barely enough to keep the lights on and the potholes filled. Mashaba said that with the age of the City’s infrastructure, it demands an approach removed from simply repairing, but replacing instead.

“The idea of repairing over 45 000 water leaks in our water system invokes the image of a cartoon character trying to plug all the holes in the dam wall with fingers and toes.

“We see the same with pothole repairs, which is the equivalent of a bandage in engineering terms.”

The mayor said these replacements will happen, but it will take time.  “It is a process, not an event. But it is a process through which our residents need to accompany us.”

The mayor said that aged infrastructure like the single 75-year-old substation serving the entire inner city is not the only problem. He said institutionalised corruption and crime have made matters much worse.

But what now? 

The City’s forthcoming budget may see so-called non-essential expenditure being squeezed to divert required resources to ease this backlog. To make sure more money comes in, the billing crisis needs to be fixed so that R5 to R10 billion lost annually due to undervaluation and non-billing are recovered.
The mayor said the City’s economy needs to be restarted and war must be declared on vandals and criminals.
“[Then], by 2021 we will have better roads, fewer power outages and a more stable supply of water.”


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