Joburg Advocacy Group (JAG): November 2009

Monday, 23 November 2009

AMD - A Business Issue?


We're deeply concerned that the problem of acid mine drainage (AMD), which has been called "the greatest environmental disaster that South Africa has ever faced" is still being treated as a business issue rather than a rights issue, and that a feature on the problem was published in yesterday's Business Times rather than in the main body of the newspaper (see online at http://www.timeslive.co.za/business/article202997.ece).

We've written to the editor of the Sunday Times about this (you can see our letter here), and are working hard to give the people affected by this issue a voice.

Our work is currently focused on (a) trying to set legal precedent in the Constitutional Court that will make it statutory for local, provincial and national government to advise and consult with residents about major environmental threats, and (b) trying to obtain funding for an independent advisory commission to monitor the AMD problem on behalf of the people of the City of Johannesburg and surrounding areas.

Needless to say, this is slow, laborious work, but we're on the case ...

Friday, 13 November 2009

Red Ribbon Campaign Goes National


The Joburg Advocacy Group is proud to be assisting the Kensington community in Johannesburg with the national launch of the Red Ribbon Campaign, which was started in their neighbourhood.
The campaign is a community-based initiative aimed at building safe, happy and peaceful communities from the ground up.
As a visible sign of commitment to this goal, we're asking everyone across the country to tie a red ribbon around a tree or lamppost this festive season, and to commit to doing whatever they can in their own neighbourhoods to build the kind of communities we'd all like to live in.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Keep an eye out for your neighbours; get involved in your local residents' association; help out at a feeding scheme once a week; support your local community security forum; form a block watch; join the neighbourhood clean-up campaign; have tea with the seniors in your local retirement village; start a community veggie garden; call out the Green Scorpions to deal with environmental problems; start a local wildlife watch scheme; report slum landlords; give AIDS orphans a chance to have a normal life; do some shopping for a shut-in; start a youth activity group; report any child, animal or domestic abuse; collect books for your local schools and libraries; start a domestic worker support group; start a skills swap scheme - the list is endless ...

Read more about the campaign, and see the launch media release here.

Freddie Papi and his sons, Israel and Gabriel (Gebi) of Johannesburg's historic Kensington suburb support the Red Ribbon Campaign started in their neighbourhood.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Fireworks and Your Rights


Do fireworks seem to get louder and more scary every year? Does the period between that awful old colonial holiday of Guy Fawkes and New Year have you, your children and your terrified pets running for cover? Are you angry that, unlike smoking in public places, the intrusion of fireworks seems to be so poorly regulated?

The truth is that there are a swathe of by-laws in place that regulate the use of fireworks, and if you know your rights, you can exercise them.

Luckily, the city itself has posted comprehensive details of when, where and under what circumstances fireworks can be used on its web site, and you can check out this information here.

According to the by-laws, fireworks may only be used under clearly-defined circumstances on the following days and at the following times:
  • New Year's Eve from 11pm to 1am
  • New Year's Day from 7pm to 10pm
  • Lag b'omer from 7pm to 10pm
  • Chinese New Year from 7pm to 10pm
  • Human Rights Day from 7pm to 10pm
  • Freedom Day from 7pm to 10pm
  • Diwali from 7pm to 10pm
  • Guy Fawkes Day from 7pm to 10pm
  • Christmas Eve from 7pm to 10pm
  • Day of Goodwill from 7pm to 10pm

Also, any person, group or organisation that wishes to hold a fireworks display has to apply for a permit, and this application has to be made available for public commentary and objections. You can check out who's applied for permits by contacting the Chief Fire Officer in your area.

In case of emergencies related to fireworks, call Joburg Emergency Connect on 011 375 5911 or the nationwide emergency response line on 10111.

A FULL COPY OF THE JOBURG METRO EMERGENCY SERVICES BY-LAWS CAN BE FOUND HERE (PDF 1MB).

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Please Speak to Us, Mr Mayor


Last week, Joburg Advocacy Group wrote to Mayor Amos Masondo requesting a face-to-face meeting to discuss possible community-based initiatives to address the growing storm over crime and service delivery in the city. We received neither an acknowledgement or a response, and feel this is indicative of the uncaring and unaccountable approach of local government to the people living and working in the country's economic hub.

Read our letter to the Mayor here.
Then write to him at MiddletonB@joburg.org.za and urge him to heed our call. By the way, this e-mail address is for his personal assistant, and was supplied by the Kensington Residents' Association. We can't get a direct e-mail address for the Mayor for love or money ...
Update (21 November, 10:30): Not even a word of acknowledgement from the Mayor's office ...

Sunday, 1 November 2009

All You Need to Know About Service Delivery and Your Rights


Poor - or non-existent - service delivery is one of the most pressing problems facing residents in the City of Johannesburg. Some have taken to the streets in protest against this state of affairs, some continue with the thankless task of trying to have their problems resolved through official channels, and some have simply lost faith in the system. Whatever the situation, service delivery is a frequent - and heated - topic of conversation around dinner tables, on the streets, in informal settlements, and over garden walls.

Most residents, from Diepsloot and Midrand in the north to Lenasia and Orange Farm in the south, and from Roodepoort in the west to Alexandra and Kensington in the east, are deeply frustrated, and feel disempowered by an inefficient, uncaring and unaccountable local administration.

What, they plead, is to be done?

Well, here's the official process for logging service delivery complaints, and some of the options open to you if that doesn't work:

1. Log your compliant with Joburg Connect on 011 375 5555 and obtain a reference number (don't laugh - this is the correct first step, and we feel it's important to respect that).

2. If your complaint hasn't been dealt with within 24-48 hours, follow and up and find out what the status is. Keep a record of all complaints and follow-up calls, including dates, times and reference numbers.

3. If that doesn't get you anywhere, refer the problem to your local residents' association (see a full list here).

4. If the association's valiant efforts to help you don't get any results, contact your local ward councillor (click here to find out which ward you fall under and who your councillor is).

5. If that doesn't work (and it's been known to happen ...), report the problem to the new toll-free Presidential Hotline on 17737 (if you're angry enough or the situation is urgent enough, skip steps 3 & 4 and call the hotline straight away).

6. If all else fails, you have two other options: (a) take up the matter with the Minister of Cooperative Development and Traditional Affairs, who is tasked with handling service delivery problems at local level, or (b) withhold the payment of rates for poor service delivery.

About that ...

Firstly, the office of Sicelo Shiceka, the Minister of Cooperative Development and Traditional Affairs, can be reached on 012 326 4478. Letters can also be addressed to the Minister at Private Bag X802, Pretoria, 0001 (unfortunately, despite our best efforts, we haven't been able to obtain an e-mail address).

The Joburg Advocacy Group wrote to President Zuma about the state of service delivery in Johannesburg earlier this year, and that letter has been referred on to the Minister for his attention (click here to read the letter, but please note that the Joburg Rates Boycott campaign mentioned in the text has since been suspended).

Secondly, ratepayers have the legal option of withholding the payment of rates in the case of poor service delivery. This is currently being done in 22 municipalities across the country, mostly by residents' associations affiliated to the National Taxpayers' Union (see the list of towns currently in dispute with municipalities here). The NTU, which represents rates action groups in over 300 municipalities, has a wealth of experience in handling campaigns to withhold rates, and offers all sorts of support for participants.
So, how does a rates campaign work?

The option of withholding rates is one that is available to all ratepayers in the case of the non-delivery of services. The legal principle that allows for this is CONTRACTUS NON ADEMPLETI and, in common law, this allows for one party to a contract to withhold payment if the other party does not deliver goods or services as contracted. And, as we've already mentioned, residents in 22 municipalities across the country are withholding the payment of rates on this basis.

This kind of action is best done as a group, not only for the sake of impact, but to protect participants from retaliation and/or frivolous legal action on the part of the city.

So, if this is a course of action you'd like to consider, either form a community group yourself or join your local residents' association. If you are a paid up member of a ratepayers' association, residents' association or community group that, as a group, chooses to become a member of the NTU, and if each household pays a membership fee of R20 per annum, the NTU will offer free advice and counsel in the case of legal action related to the legitimate withholding of rates for the non-delivery of services.

We believe rates campaigns can be very effective, especially as a means of setting legal precedent, but experience has taught us that they are best undertaken and managed at suburb level rather than at city level. This is because an action like this benefits from the infrastructure already established by residents' associations and, more importantly, residents feel they have more control over the action if it is initiated and managed locally.
That said, we're deeply concerned about how divisive the service delivery issue is, and especially about how divisions often develop along racial lines. For that reason, more than any other, we suggest that frustrated residents use the Presidential Hotline or contact the Minister of Cooperative Development as a first measure before considering a rates action.

On our part , the Joburg Advocacy group will continue to follow up the issue with Minister Shiceka, and we'll report back on our progress here.
But, if you want to get service delivery sorted, you have to get involved too. We need to work together to build a safe, peaceful, efficient and effective urban community, and that's only going to happen if residents and local government work together.