The World Today for June 07, 2023


Musical Chairs


Apartheid, or legal segregation based on race, ended in South Africa almost 30 years ago. Yet anyone walking around Johannesburg could be forgiven for believing the hateful policy was still in place, according to Catalyst, a free-market-oriented news publication. The deeply segregated city is only 12 percent white.

White families abandoning South Africa’s largest city is one problem that has gone unaddressed in Johannesburg in recent years. Power outages, water shortages, crumbling roads, dilapidated buildings, poverty, and other problems are also endemic there.

Dysfunctional local politics are at the root of these challenges.

“I care deeply for Johannesburg but feel let down by the city, its officials, the voters and politics,” wrote David Potter, who served on the Johannesburg municipal council for 12 years until the end of May. “Many ward councilors are at the end of their tethers. Joburg is likely simply too far gone. I don’t need to tell you that – it is visible everywhere.”

Because voters keep refusing to give a single political party more than half the votes in the city, Johannesburg politicians have needed to form precarious coalitions that often fail to remain together long enough as a mayoral administration that could fix the city’s serious problems. The country’s most popular party, the African National Congress, for example, lost its majority in the city in 2016.

Johannesburg recently swore in its sixth mayor in less than 22 months, the New York Times reported. The Africa Report likened the string of leaders to a “clown car.” The newest mayor, Kabelo Gwamanda, is a first-term city councilman whose political party won 1 percent of the vote in municipal elections. Gwamanda’s rivals are already accusing him of running a Ponzi scheme involving a funeral insurance scam. He’s countered that the charges are politically motivated.

“I am an indigenous child of the soil and I possess the intelligence necessary to lead my people in the direction that is required,” Gwamanda told Eyewitness News. “So, I will not be deterred by political ploys from whichever direction it’s coming from.”

The new mayor needs to be focusing on bread-and-butter issues like ending the mismanagement, corruption, and even sabotage that has become commonplace in South Africa’s energy system, for example, as the BBC discussed. He must also focus on improving city services like sewage maintenance and trash collection, added News24, or else residents could lose confidence in the city administration completely.

But, if the past is any precedent, someone else will inherit these problems before the current mayor can do much to change things.

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