Alexandra township residents unhappy with promises of renewal project

Charles Molele

An unemployed mother of four Francinah Masilo came prepared to the ANC rally in Alexandra where President Cyril Ramaphosa was scheduled to address residents on Thursday.

Masilo, whose great grandfather lived in the oldest township in South Africa, carried a letter the community wrote to former President Thabo Mbeki about the Alexandra Renewal project (ARP) – one of the flagship developmental projects of the post-apartheid state. 

The letter raised issues that continue to plague the community of Alexandra – high levels of crime and violence, lack of proper housing, illegal structures, unclean environment and poor sanitation throughout the township.   

Mbeki launched the ARP in 2001 with funding from the national, provincial and local governments.

Based on a seven-year plan to upgrade the infrastructure and address the unemployment and housing crises in Alexandra, the ARP inspired widespread hope and tremendous expectations.

The ARP’s goals included – substantially reducing the levels of unemployment; creating a healthy and clean living environment; providing engineering services at an affordable and sustainable level; reducing levels of crime and upgrading existing housing environments and creating additional affordable housing opportunities.

However, little has been achieved.

The project came to an abrupt end in 2014, having achieved only limited success. The current City of Joburg mayor Herman Mashaba has since launched a forensic investigation into the project.  

“We wrote a letter to Mbeki complaining about the failure of ARP. He never responded and we are where we are today because nobody has given us answers about the failure of the project,” said Masilo.

“Mbeki pumped the money into Alexandra but we don’t where the money went to. We are the original property owners in this township but we were not consulted about the renewal project. That’s why we are here today.”

Masilo said while they appreciated Ramaphosa’s visit to Alexandra on Thursday, they were disappointed that he did not address the core issues affecting the people of Alexandra – mainly housing and RDP allocations.

To qualify for a subsidy, the applicant must be a South African citizen aged twenty-one or over with financial dependents, a combined household income of less than R3,500 per month, and no previous home-ownership or housing subsidy.

Masila said people have filled the C-Forms for subsidies more than 20 years ago but they were still waiting for their RDP houses.

She said many people who have benefited from RDP allocations were people who illegally moved into Alexandra and have now set up shacks and illegal structures all over the place. Many have jumped the queue and some of these ‘foreign’ beneficiaries owned multiple shacks through an illegal scheme called “shack farming”.

Tshebeletso Mohapi, 37, who often works at the local Extended Public Works Programme (EPWP), said Ramaphosa came to Alexandra on Thursday for one thing – to campaign for the 2019 general elections instead of addressing community’s problems.

“What happen here today is not on,” said Mohapi.

“He told us about things we know. We feel that he came here to campaign for his party. We won’t vote. There will be no voting in our township. We are going to have a shutdown on May 8.”

Ramaphosa, in his capacity as ANC president, addressed a packed Alexandra Stadium afternoon following a week of protests in the area, where residents burned tyres and blocked roads. While the majority of people who packed the stadium were ANC supporters, some wore EFF and DA T-shirts and mingled easily with everyone. Ramaphosa arrived shortly after 2pm to loud cheers and popular struggle songs.

He was accompanied by Home Affairs Minister Siyabonga Cwele, Local Government and Traditional Affairs Minister Zweli Mkhize, Human Settlements Minister Nomaindia Mfeketo and Minister of Small Business Development Lindiwe Zulu.

During his speech, Ramaphosa said the Alexandra Renewal Project would continue whether the DA-led City of Johannesburg likes it or not.

“What I want to say is that the Alex Renewal Project will continue whether they like it or not, we will move forward with it. This will ensure that this place you stay in will be beautiful and better,” said Ramaphosa.

Earlier, Gauteng premier and the party’s chairperson David Makhura said that the Auditor-General will be looking into the project to try and determine where the money went which was allocated to it.

Ramaphosa lambasted Mashaba for his failure to address the problems of Alexandra.

“Local government must fix your problems. Your mayor says he cannot come here now. I thought the mayor must come first before I could come here and listen to your problems. A mayor must not be scared of his people. He is accusing the ANC of causing the protests for political reasons. But even if the ANC caused this he must come. He must come and speak to you. He is responsible for running the municipality,” said Ramaphosa.

“We want the mayor to come to Alexandra and fix your problems.”

Former mayor of Joburg Parks Tau said on Friday that an audit conducted by the Auditor-General during his time found no malfeasance in the Alexandra Renewal Project following allegations of fraud and corruption.

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