Can Herman Mashsaba clean up the corrupt mess he inherited in Joburg?

Posted 22 February 2017 Written by Sara Gonn
Category Corruption

Joburg's new mayor Herman Mashaba inherited a frightening mess of corruption and graft in Joburg. City employees are being fired daily, and a special Forensic Unit has been set up to deal with the volume of corruption and fraud being uncovered. Sara Gonn at the Institute of Race Relations looks at what's going on in the city.

A friend expressed frustration that, although it had only been a few months, the Democratic Alliance administration in Johannesburg City Council should have been able to show some improvements in the suburbs.

A response was that, after 22 years of African National Party governance, it would take years to see improvement.

How big the problem is is becoming increasingly apparent. This was starkly elucidated in an internet radio interview on The Gareth Cliff Show with Johannesburg mayor, Herman Mashaba, on Cliff Central on 8 February 2017, the day before the president’s State of the Nation speech.

Most of what Mashaba said has been referred to elsewhere in the media, but it is worth reconsidering some of these points.

In referring to the corruption and maladministration uncovered in the Auditor General’s Integrated Report to the Council, Mashaba described the ANC’s administration of the last five years as frightening. ‘What kind of human being would really do this to their own country?’ Mashaba describes it as a ‘massive patronage system’.

On a daily basis employees are being suspended as they discover more and more corruption. The scale of corruption is so great that the mayor has established an independent Forensic Unit to investigate allegations and uncover evidence to the city, because the office of the mayor couldn’t cope with the sheer volume of cases. Auditors such as KPMG, EY and SizweNtsalubaGobodo are participating.

Tellingly, in response to this action, the ANC publicly said that this had been done because Mashaba wanted the tenders for himself! As Gareth Cliff commented, this says more about the ANC then it says about Mashaba.

Of immense concern to us is Mashaba’s comment that the city can’t use the law enforcement agencies to deal with corruption. He elaborated that they are getting cooperation from members of the Hawks and the police, but not from the National Prosecuting Authority. Mashaba doesn’t know whether the latter’s inactivity is due to incapacity or politics.

Some of the recent actions taken by the Council include:

•    a forensic review into City Power;

•    the reintegration of the services companies back into the Council;

•    the arrest of 106 traffic department officials for corruption – Mashaba refers to it being only one department so far and merely the ’tip of the iceberg’;

•    charging and suspending an employee who defrauded the Council by conniving with large property owners to reduce the values of their properties. Carte Blanche exposed this activity a year before the DA came into office, yet nothing had been done about it;

•    suspending a senior member of the Billing Department who was manipulating billing for her own gain;

•    closing down Jozi@Work, an employment/entrepreneurial opportunity programme in which former mayor, Parks Tau, recently expressed great pride. Mashaba describes it as ‘an official corruption system‘ where the ANC simply acted as a ‘labour broker’, creating a system of middlemen who were completely unjustified.

A huge challenge in dealing with corruption and incompetence is the fact that the labour law requires every person so charged to be subject to a fair disciplinary process. As business owners know, much time and money is required to ensure that proper hearings are held. The main challenge for Mashaba is to suspend such employees without them spending too much time on paid suspension. A suspended employee has to be paid unless or until the employee is found guilty and dismissed.

The city’s Billing Department is still in chaos and Mashaba estimates that another R5 billion may become available. Mashaba wonders whether the chaos wasn’t deliberate, as it gave people an opportunity to steal.

Two months before the DA-led Council took office, the ANC-led Council approved a new budget. This budget bears no reality to what the City’s budget needs to be. The DA, however, is legally bound to apply the budget for a year. It can only adjust the budget after six months (at the end of February) and then only to the extent of a 10% variance of the original budget.

Every act of corruption is detrimental to the provision of services to the citizens of Jo’burg, but there’s more. In 22 years there has been no maintenance of crumbling infrastructure. There is a backlog of R68 million for electricity maintenance alone. R170 billion is needed for the maintenance of all infrastructure. The current budget for capital expenditure (capex) for the city is under R10 billion.

Mashaba said that the ANC was only in government for tenders, not for service delivery. Governance by the ANC has only been understood in terms of patronage and vanity projects.

While it might be tempting to assume that Mashaba is indulging in party politics, the terrible thing is that we know that he is right. And that we don’t know half of it. This is what we have come to expect from the ruling party at all levels.

Sara Gon is a Policy Fellow at the IRR, a think tank that promotes economic and political liberty. This article first appeared at

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