Joburg Advocacy Group (JAG): 2011

Friday, 23 December 2011

AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE

Dear supporters, network partners, associates, and friends in the media and civil society,

Over the past three years, the five founding members of the Joburg Advocacy Group (JAG) have devoted literally thousands of hours to voluntary advocacy work. As we're unable to continue to do so, we'll be operating on a limited, ad hoc basis only from now on. This especially as our voluntary work has increasingly been compromising our jobs, businesses and practices - and therefore our ability to earn a living.

As importantlytraditional advocacy work can only be effective within a system of governance that's at least notionally functional, which we believe ours no longer is.

The need for organised collective action in both the City of Joburg and the country as a whole is therefore becoming increasingly urgent.

In fact, we believe the socio-political change we so desperately need won't come from within the system of government, but only as a result of peaceful, direct action on the part of civil society. 

So the choice is simple, really - organise and act collectively to ensure that we can all live in a fair, just, efficient and equitable society that reflects the ideals expressed in our Constitution and functions within the rule of law, or live with the consequences of not doing so.

We therefore encourage residents to:
  • Become more actively involved in the day-to-day issues that affect them;
  • Organise collectively through residents' associations and community groups in order to address key challenges;
  • Establish issues-specific citizens' advocacy groups to deal with important governance, social justice and environmental issues;
  • Participate in and comment on debates in both the traditional media and the online media;
  • Write letters to editors, talk show hosts, ward councillors, oversight agencies and government departments to draw their attention to important issues and to call for appropriate responses and action;
  • Ask international advocacy groups like Avaaz to petition for action on important issues;
  • Set up your own petition for action on the Avaaz web site;
  • Use social networks to raise issues and share information;
  • Approach the producers of TV programmes like Carte Blanche, Special Assignment and 50/50 to investigate issues when your community doesn't have the resources to do so;
  • Approach newspapers, magazines, radio stations and web sites with a good investigative reputation to do the same;
  • Take legal action and/or lay charges for violations of the law if and as indicated; 
  • Organise and bring class action and/or ConCourt actions if and as indicated;
  • Lobby in every way possible for formalised processes to support citizen oversight of government;
  • Lobby for independent Mayoral elections;
  • Lobby for operational departments and entities to be run by suitably-skilled professionals, who can be held to account in terms of pre-determined key result areas;
  • Engage with ward councillors and hold them to account in terms of their mandate;
  • Insist that ward councillors convene mandatory community feedback meetings on a quarterly basis;
  • Call on ward and proportional representation councillors to request that residents' motions dealing with specific issues be placed on the council's agenda;
  • Use the resources available on this site to lobby for meaningful change; and, on a very practical level
  • Lobby for a change to smart metering throughout the city which, we believe, is the only way to resolve the current billing crisis will be resolved.

On specific issues, residents may find the following information useful:

1. If you have a billing dispute or a service delivery complaint that you've been unable to get resolved through the usual channels, please contact your ward councillor for assistance.

2. If you've been affected by the Joburg billing crisis, further information for residents and businesses is available in the JAG Billing Crisis Information Leaflet.

3. If you've experienced a services cut-off for any reason, further information is available in the JAG Cut-Off Campaign Information Leaflet.

NOTE: On 15 December, the South Gauteng High Court ruled that the City of Johannesburg cannot cut services to anyone who has not received an accurate and up-to-date bill, has a current billing dispute or hasn't received two weeks' notice of the intended cut-off. If you find the city is in violation of this ruling, please advise Schindlers Attorneys on coj.complaints@schindlers.co.za. Schindlers is the firm that brought the legal action on which the ruling is based, and will take appropriate action if the city violates it.

4. Also please feel free to browse the JAG Document Archive, which can be accessed here.

5. Details of the relevant city departments and oversight agencies to contact should you have a complaint or a dispute are listed in the sidebar.

Finally, special thanks are due to our supporters and network partners for their help and encouragement during the past three years. We couldn't have done what we've managed to do without it.

Wishing you all a happy and safe festive season

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Taking a Break



Folks, we're taking a break from advocacy work for a while, and will re-assess JAG's viability at the end of the year. For one thing, running the group has become a more-than-full-time occupation and, as we're all volunteers with work and other commitments to meet, we just can't sustain our current level of activity.

Also, when we established the group nearly three years ago, we hoped to be able to use advocacy to address some of the very pressing governance, service delivery, social justice and environmental protection issues in the city - on behalf of all of its residents.

The state of play

A few years down the line we're the first to admit that our success has been patchy. This is because advocacy, as powerful as it can be, only really works in a system that's at least notionally functional which, increasingly, ours isn't.

And our lack of success hasn't been for lack of trying.

Some of our work

Since 2009, we’ve run or supported campaigns to address such issues as crime, poor service delivery, surface water pollution, acid mine drainage, financial mismanagement in the City of Joburg, the racialization of politics, the need for a more accountable form of direct democracy and, above all, the Joburg billing crisis.

More recently, we've made several submissions as part of the city’s Growth and Development Strategy public participation process (GDS2040), and we participated in the National Planning Commission’s first-ever online jam, which was constituted to canvass public input on national strategy.

We’ve also opposed the huge hikes in councillor remuneration being proposed by the SA Local Government Association (SALGA) and the proposed Municipal Property Rates Amendment Bill, as well as the recent indecipherable hikes in electricity tariffs approved by the National Energy Regulator (NERSA).
We’ve debated local and national government officials on radio and television, issued dozens of media releases and statements, and have taken part in town hall meetings in many parts of the city.

We also drafted and published a report on the 2011 Local Government Elections earlier this year, published a comprehensive billing crisis information booklet for residents and businesses and, amongst many other information initiatives, have been running a very active social networking campaign on Twitter and Facebook. And, of course, we've repeatedly lobbied for the people of the City of Joburg at all levels of government and with all of the relevant oversight agencies.

Where to from here?

We believe local government as a whole is pretty much in a state of crisis, and that the institutions we should be able to turn to for help in a situation like this, such as provincial government, national government and the courts, are in much the same state of crisis - or are hide-bound by inefficiency, mismanagement, corruption and/or red tape.
The same could be said for some Chapter Nine institutions like the Public Protector's office which, other than making a few placating noises, has basically ignored JAG's pleas on the billing crisis, effectively leaving the city's administration unaccountable for the monumental failure in good governance that the crisis represents. 

The National Consumer Commission (NCC), on the other hand, while doing everything possible to assist individual residents affected by the billing crisis, is simply being subjected to the obfuscation that the city’s administration subjects its residents to. The NCC may, in time, be able to fine the city for non-compliance in terms of the Consumer Protection Act, but that fine will have to be paid out of the public purse, and the politicians and municipal officials responsible for this mess - like the Travelgate MPs - will never be held to account.
In a situation such as this, advocacy becomes the very definition of insanity - doing the same thing over and over again, hoping for a different result.

What are the alternatives?
The only viable alternative to advocacy at this stage is broad-based peaceful direct action, but so far our efforts to encourage residents' associations and community groups to organise have largely fallen on deaf ears.

We feel change is very unlikely to come from the within the system of government, and is only likely to come from concerted collective action. If the city's people won't organise, though, there's little more that groups like JAG can do. They either need to oppose the developments taking place in government in a meaningful way, or live with the consequences.

In short, they can no longer just make a cross on a ballot paper every five years and claim they're partaking in the establishment and protection of a non-racist, non-sexist, just, effective and accountable democracy. And they can no longer hope that someone else will sort out the problems arising in the city and around the country.
Democracy is as democracy does, and it's something that comes about through active citizen involvement - it's not a task that can be left to a few committed activists running themselves ragged trying to make a difference - without any real support or any hope of actually achieving anything.

Perhaps the growing civil society movement, which includes such organisations as the Black Sash, the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (IPACC), the Occupy SA movement, Direct Democracy SA, The September National Imbizo, the Homeless People's Movement, the National Taxpayers' Union (NTU), the Southern African Regional Poverty Network (SARPN), the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) and such locally-based organisations as the shack dweller's movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo in Durban, and the Northern Federation of Ratepayers (NORFED) in Joburg will eventually be able to hold government to account.

If they don't, and if ordinary citizens don't join together to take action against the systematic destruction of the South African democratic project, we will find ourselves in a very bad situation indeed in this country - and sooner than many would like to believe. 

Remuneration Increases for Municipal Councillors

JAG is currently petitioning for a cap on remuneration packages for municipal councillors, especially in light of the Minister of Finance's concern that the public sector wage bill isn't sustainable.

Read our letter to the Deputy Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA) here and e-mail the Deputy Minister at yunus.carrim@cogta.gov.za to express your support for this action.

UPDATE, 6 NOVEMBER 2011: Although there's been no official announcement, we believe the proposed remuneration increases for councillors have been put on hold. Thanks to all who supported our call for action on this issue.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

NPC Jam

We're currently participating in the National Planning Commission Jam, the first-ever government-hosted online jam. The key topic subject is the NPC's diagnostic report, which was released earlier this year, as well as South Africa's Vision 2030. Many other themes allow for discussions on such pressing issues as service delivery, the economy, education and training, crime, infrastructure and jobs.


Over one thousand South Africans have logged on since the jam was launched an hour ago and the discussion about our country's future is on! The conversation will continue until 12:00 on Saturday, so join in.

We're being represented by one of our founding members, so look out for the jammer ID Lee Cahill (Joburg Advocacy Group). We'll also be tweeting during the participation process using the hashtag #NPCJam. Catch up with us on Twitter or follow our live feed in the sidebar.

If you're already registered to participate in the jam, logon here to participate. If you're not already registered, click through to here to do so.

UPDATE, 10 OCTOBER 2011:
If you'd like to read through a transcript of our contribution to the NPC Jam, click through to the JAG Document Archive.

Friday, 12 August 2011

City of Joburg Growth and Development Strategy (GDS2040)



As you know, the City of Joburg has embarked on a nine-week public consultation process related to its Growth and Development Strategy. The theme of the first week is Liveable Cities. Eight other themes will be covered during the next few weeks.

If you would like to make a submission on this or any of the other themes, send your input by e-mail to: gds2040@gmail.com.

UPDATE:
Click through here to read JAG's submission on creating liveable cities.
Click through here to read JAG's submission on resource sustainability.
Click through here to read a Twitter transcript of JAG's submission on the environment.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Happy Women's Day



Happy Women's Day everyone! A time to remember our past, celebrate our present and plan an even better future for women and girl children. The work is not yet done ...

Monday, 8 August 2011

City of Joburg Growth and Development Strategy (GDS2040)

The City of Joburg kicks off its Growth and Development Strategy consultation process today. Every week for nine weeks, residents will be asked to submit ideas on how to develop the kind of city we can all enjoy living in and be proud of.

Each of the nine weeks will feature a theme, and this week's theme is Liveable Cities. Click through here to read more - and to send through your suggestions. 

Regular updates are also being posted on Facebook (GDS 2040) and on Twitter (@GDS2040), so join the conversation!

Monday, 6 June 2011

What the SABC wouldn't tell you about the Joburg billing crisis

During the course of the past week, JAG received a call from SABC TV News, asking us if we'd be prepared to comment on the on-going Joburg billing crisis. According to the journalist who contacted us, although the city claims it has made considerable progress towards resolving the crisis, communities all over the city are claiming otherwise. Our own experience leads us to agree that the situation is far from resolved.

Suffice it to say, we supplied the SABC with twelve cases studies of unresolved complaints from our substantial archives, gave an on-camera interview raising some of the most concerning issues related to the billing crisis, and even set up an interview with one of the complainants.

The resulting coverage, which aired on Thursday 3 June, made no mention of the issues we'd raised, did not include any of our on-camera commentary and, in fact, came across more as a PR plug for the city than anything else.

So, in case you're wondering how things stand, here's some background that will put the situation into perspective: 
  • JAG first published a billing crisis information leaflet for residents on 13 November 2010 in response to the growing number of complaints we were receiving about grossly incorrect municipal accounts.
  • Over the next two months, however, the crisis did not abate and, in fact worsened.
  • JAG therefore launched a full-scale billing crisis campaign on 19 January 2011, calling on the Gauteng Provinicial MEC to intervene in the crisis, as provided for in the Municipal Systems Act.
  • On 26 February, under pressure because of the extensive media coverage of the billing crisis, the city convened a media briefing. At this briefing, then-Mayor, Amos Masondo, said that 8% of the city's bills were incorrect. Even if this figure can be trusted, which we question, it equates to approximately 80,000 erroneous bills. At the time, many had been in dispute for a year or more.
  • Despite an intensive advocacy campaign conducted over the next two months, affected residents continued to report that their disputes were not being resolved. Further, new disputes were arising with every new statement run.
  • We therefore eventually approached the President, asking him to intervene on behalf of affected residents.
  • The correspondence was not acknowledged, but the Public Protector and the MEC hastily convened a media briefing on 14 April to brief the media on the progress being made to address the situation.
  • At the briefing, the MEC and the Public Protector assured the media that the crisis was being addressed, and the number of complaints had been reduced to approximately 30,000 in number.
  • JAG queried this at the briefing, and susequently wrote to the MEC asking for verification of these figures. The correspondence was not acknowledged.
With this in mind, here are some of the facts the SABC felt weren't worth reporting:
  • The city's claim that the number of billing complaints has been reduced from approximately 80,000 in February to approximately 30,000 (a figure which appears to have remained constant for nearly two months) cannot be verified. The figures reported by SABC TV News were therefore simply those released by the city.
  • Residents continue to report that their disputes remain unresolved, and new disputes continue to arise every month.
  • Some of the case studies we supplied to the SABC include:
    • The case of a deceased estate that has been billed R250K for electricity. The executors have been unable to have this reversed since it was billed several months ago, and the estate therefore cannot be tied up.
    • The case of a pensioner who was billed R1.7m for electricity and, when she eventually managed to have this reversed, was then billed R41K

Sunday, 22 May 2011

JAG Report on the 2011 Local Government Election



JAG has published a report on the 2011 Local Government Election, which includes a summary of national results and detailed information for the residents of Joburg. Click here to access the report.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

We're Saying "No"

JAG has announced that all of its members will be spoiling their votes in tomorrow's election in protest against the current local government system and the failure of most of the political parties to commit to any form of direct democracy.



Here's why we made the decision:

Firstly, as mentioned above, we're seeing no commitment to moving towards a more accountable, people-centred form of direct democracy amongst the political parties, and little capacity to implement it in Cope, the only party that agreed to sign a social contract with the voters (apart from all Independent Ratepayers' Association of SA-affiliated independents).

Secondly, we feel the local government system itself is deeply flawed and that, without meaningful system change, it doesn't matter who's at the helm. Voting for one party or another would simply be akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Thirdly, by law, spoilt papers have to be counted and become part of the voting record. They're an established means of registering protest in democracies around the world. A high number of spoilt votes in the upcoming LGE would effectively be a vote of no confidence in the current system of local government, and could be used as a platform to lobby for system change.

Then, many voters have threatened not to vote in the elections and, as part of our direct democracy campaign, we've been encouraging those who're thinking of abstaining to spoil their papers instead. So it isn't just a case of a few isolated people choosing the spoilt vote option - we suspect many voters will either abstain or will spoil their ballot papers.

Next, submitting a spoilt ballot is a valid and acceptable way of exercising one's democratic privilege, although it's obviously a matter of individual choice. It's by no means a meaningless gesture. In fact, if you feel that none of the political parties speak for you - and especially if you don't trust them - it's the only choice.

Then, both the ruling party and the official opposition are definitely concerned about the spoilt vote lobby, so this isn't just a case of snapping uselessly at their heels. JAG has come under a lot of pressure from both parties on this issue, and it's notable that party leaders are now actively using the media to urge voters to vote.

Finally, as we've already mentioned, our contention is that, without meaningful system change, it doesn't matter who's "in power" (we prefer the term "in office"). In the currrent system, all political power is mediated through political parties, and we feel elections are more about obtaining and maintaining political power than about public service.

One thing is for sure: voters have little or no say in how the system is run. The only power they have is to vote for candidates who've been selected by the various political parties (and whose members represent only about 5% of the voting population), and then to hand over the keys of government to those parties after the election.

Unless we can begin working towards a new system of direct democracy, nothing will change. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupt absolutely. Without direct citizen oversight of the democratic process, political parties will continue to abuse the power that should be rightfully vested in the hands of the people.

Sometimes exercising one's conscience is about making a symbolic gesture. Many great people far worthier than we have done it in the past. Gandhi's Salt March and Rosa Parks' refusal to give up her seat in the "white" section of a bus during the Civil Rights Campaign in the US are just two cases in point.

So, as best we know how to explain it, that's why we'll be spoiling our ballot papers tomorrow ...

Click here to read an essay entitled TO VOTE OT NOT TO VOTE? - a personal perspective on spoiling one's vote, written by one of JAG's founding members.


Wednesday, 11 May 2011

A Social Contract with the Electorate

JAG sent out the following statement to all network partners, associates, residents' associations and local media yesterday. We feel this is an extremely important development in the move towards a more direct, accountable and people-centred democracy in South Africa:

The Joburg Advocacy Group (JAG) has been running a direct democracy campaign in the run-up to the local government elections on 18 May. As part of this campaign, we approached all of the major political parties and asked them if they would be prepared to have their candidates sign a social contract committing them to the principles of direct democracy and to being directly responsible to the electorate should they be voted into office.

Neither the ruling party nor the official opposition agreed - and nor did the IFP, UDM, AZAPO, ACDP or FF+ - but all COPE and IRASA-affiliated independent candidates have agreed to sign. This is the first time that a political party or political grouping has agreed to make this kind of commitment and we feel it’s a positive move. This might provide voters with the opportunity to begin working towards a new, more accountable and people-centred democracy in South Africa.

We invite you to advise your members/readers/listeners/viewers and any interested and affected parties of this development.

A copy of the contract all COPE candidates have agreed to sign, which is based on the one we developed in association with veteran democracy activist, Jim Powell, can be viewed here.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

A Provisional Definition of Direct Democracy



Several commentators have written to ask us whether we could give a definition of our understanding of direct democracy. With that in mind, we've drafted the following provisional definition of direct democrcay as we understand it:

Direct democracy is a way of organising public life that enables citizens to have a direct say over the way in which government is run, both through the electoral process and through other mechanisms that allow for direct participation at all times.

Direct democracy is not an ideology like communism, nationalism, socialism or fascism, and is not a form of government that is defined centrally by a small political elite and then imposed on the electorate from the top down. Rather, it is a flexible, constantly-evolving expression of the democratic principle that is developed by the people and for the people.

In a system of direct democracy, citizens work in partnership with elected representatives to ensure good governance, with a specific focus on effective and accountable local government. They have a direct say over who is nominated to represent them and in the approval of electoral candidates, whether these are independent or affiliated to a political party.

Candidates selected in this way cannot stand for election unless they sign a social contract with their constituency, guaranteeing that they will fairly represent the interests of the electorate, will deliver on clearly-defined performance criteria, will be accountable in terms of the law, and will be subject to recall for non-performance through the exercise of a pre-defined democratic process.

Further, in a direct democracy, citizens have the right to participate and be heard in political decision-making, and to collectively call for a referendum on any issue or law should this be deemed necessary by a defined proportion of the population. This applies at any level of government, but specifically at local level.

Direct democracy puts political power in the hands of the people in a very real way, and in a way that can be constantly measured and assessed by the people themselves.

A system of democracy which effectively puts political power in the hands of political parties with membership figures that represent only a small percentage of the voting population, is not direct democracy. In a system such as this, voters have little or no say over the selection and approval of candidates for election and, once they have voted, they have no direct say over the performance of their elected representatives or over the way in which they, the people, are represented. As importantly, they have little or no say over policy, strategy and tactics, or over the exercise of disciplinary procedures.

In a rapidly-changing and increasingly globalised social, economic and political environment, democracy itself must evolve to meet the changing needs of the world’s people. It cannot be the only socio-political system to remain rigid and unchanging.

And if democracy is genuinely the ideal - rather than power, money and influence - direct democracy can be the only way forward to a truly representative and egalitarian society.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Campaign for Direct Democracy


Today is Human Rights Day in South Africa, the day on which we celebrate the Bill of Rights contained in the Constitution, commemorate those who died and were injured at Sharpeville on this day in 1960 and, in the words of Nelson Mandela, say: "Never, never and never again ...".


So we feel it is an appropriate day on which to launch a campaign for direct democracy in the City of Johannesburg, because Sharpeville represents what can and does happen when ordinary people have no meaningful voice in public affairs, and when power over many is vested in the hands of a few.

History

For those who are unfamiliar with the historic background to this day, it was on 21 March 1960 that apartheid-era police fired into an unarmed crowd conducting a peaceful protest against the mandatory use of the dompas ('dumb pass') identity document, which only black people had to carry.

The shooting is believed to have been triggered by poorly-trained young police officers reacting in fear when they saw the crowd massing, and its context is contentious. Nevertheless, 69 people died on that day and approximately 300 were wounded, mostly shot from behind. 


The event was a watershed in the country's history, as it lead to the declaration of a state of emergency and to the banning of the ANC and the PAC. This, in turn, lead to the decision to form Umkhonto we Sizwe (the ANC's military wing), to the armed struggle against apartheid and, ultimately, to the advent of representative democracy in 1994.

Seventeen years on, representative democracy has taken us only so far and, in too many cases to mention, has failed the people of South Africa dismally.

It therefore seems to be the right time to begin working towards a new kind of direct democracy, beginning at local level, which will ensure that every voice counts in our young democracy.

About Direct Democracy

Direct democracy is not an ideology or a political system, like nationalism or communism, and it cannot be imposed by centrally-controlled structures.

It is simply a non-partisan way of organising public life in such a way that all citizens have a direct and meaningful say over the laws, institutions and systems that impact on their day-to-day lives, and on the way in which their country is governed.

Direct democracy is therefore not something that can be created by political parties, ideologues or, indeed, by advocacy groups like ours. It is something that can only be created by the country's people - individuals or groups of individuals acting together to make this ideal a reality.


JAG's Campaign for Direct Democracy

What JAG has to offer to an undertaking of this kind is not a new political system, a new ideology, a new political party or a new set of leaders, but simply
the kind of information the city's voters need in order to decide on how best to exercise their hard-won democratic privilege,
as well as an open platform that they can use to express their views. We don't claim to speak for the city's people because they can speak for themselves, and we have never claimed to represent them, because they can do that for themselves too.

Our mission has always been simply to advocate for good governance in the Joburg metro on behalf of all of the city's residents, and to provide them with the kind of information that empowers them to take meaningful and effective action on their own behalf.

It has, however, become increasingly clear to us that, in a system which has become fundamentally dysfunctional, even the most hard-nosed advocacy has little impact. And we are more convinced than ever that the only solution to the current state of affairs is a completely new system of governance, as we feel certain that change cannot - and will not - come from within.

Even if the ruling ANC were to be voted out of power and the city were to be ruled by the opposition DA, the system's fundamental structural failures would remain unaddressed, and this would simply, we believe, be a case of re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Without real and meaningful change, we feel certain that the city's system of local government will slowly but surely fall into a greater and more acute state of collapse and, as importantly, that voters will continue to have little or no say over how their city is governed.

So today we begin a campaign aimed at communicating some of the little-known facts about our current system of local government, and at engaging voters in a debate about possible alternatives. 

To begin with, from now until election day, we will be posting a daily fact about our current system of democracy or about direct democracy on our Facebook page and on Twittter (@JoburgAdvocacy), and will be posing pertinent questions about these facts. We invite all residents in the city and, indeed, from other municipal areas, to engage in this debate. 

For those who do not have Facebook or Twitter accounts, there is a direct Twitter feed in the sidebar on this site, which will enable you to follow the conversation. You can also click through to our Facebook page using the link in the sidebar. This will enable you to follow the debate on Facebook, even if you don't have a Facebook account. If you wish to post comments, you will need to sign up for a free Facebook account in order to do so, a process which takes only a few minutes.

During the next week, we will also be publishing two easy-to-read documents about our present local government system and about an alternative system of direct democracy: Direct Democracy: Frequently-Asked Questions and the 2011 Local Government Elections Information Leaflet. We hope these will give voters the kind of information that they're unlikely to see in the media or to be given by political parties.

Why Direct Democracy?

What, readers may ask, has brought JAG to the point at which it is advocating for a new form of direct democracy?


The short answer is our direct experience, both as individual residents and as members of this group, of the widespread failure of good governance in our system of government, particularly at local level. 

Of as much concern is the failure of various oversight bodies, including institutions such as the Public Protector and bodies like chambers of commerce and law societies, to respond in any meaningful way to this crisis of governance.

A Unique Window of Opportunity


This is why we believe a new system of direct democracy is the only way forward, and why we feel that voters have a unique window of opportunity to call for change during the upcoming local government elections.

Amongst other things, it is this window of opportunity that we will be exploring in depth in the upcoming weeks, and we look forward to engaging in that discussion with the people of Joburg. 


For a sensitive and insightful analysis of the Sharpeville shootings, please refer to "An ordinary atrocity: Sharpeville and its massacre" by Philip Frankel (Wits University Press, 2001)

Note: Just to advise that there seems to be a problem with Blogger at the moment, as several people have mailed to let us know that they've commented on this post, but that their comments have subsequently just disappeared!

We've checked our privacy settings, and comments are allowed from anyone without moderation, so the problem isn't on our side. This is unfortunately a known issue with Blogger and we've written to the technical team there to try and get this problem addressed.

In the meantime, if you're experiencing problems posting a comment, please send your comment through by e-mail to jag-sa@telkomsa.net and we'll publish it from our side. Alternatively, please participate in the discussion on our Facebook page. We value feedback from all individuals and groups, and encourage everyone to participate in the debate about direct democracy.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Notification for Independent Candidates


NOTE: Independent candidates have until 25 March to give notice of their intention to stand in the upcoming municipal elections.

Candidates will need the signatures of 50 registered voters in their ward to support their candidacy, and will need to pay a deposit of R4,000 to stand in the City of Johannesburg (less in smaller municipalities).

Click here for further information.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Billing Crisis Reportback

We're pleased to advise that there has been significant progress on the Joburg billing crisis during the past week.


The report into the crisis that we called for on 19 January has been completed by the Gauteng MEC for Local Government and Housing, both the Mayor and the Acting Minister of Cooperative Development and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA) have apologised for the crisis, problem areas have been identified and strategies put in place to deal with them, and we had two reports yesterday of residents "unexpectedly" getting their incorrect bills sorted. We hope these will be just the first of many.

We were also contacted by the new National Consumer Commission yesterday, which called to offer assistance on protracted individual cases. We're very grateful that the commission has taken this initiative prior to even opening its doors, and we will begin sending selected cases through for its attention on Monday.  

Further news came this morning when it was reported on TimesLive that City Manager, Mavela Dlamini has replaced billing and revenue executive director, Vicky Shuping. Our thanks to Mr Dlamini for this and other actions he has taken over the past week since participating in a debate with JAG on Summit TV on 3 March.
 
We're still receiving a high level of complaints about the Joburg Connect helpline, though, and about the new statements@joburg.org.za e-mails address, so we have advised the City Manager of these issues. We hope they'll be addressed shortly. 
 
It took a furore to get here, but we're pleased that we're starting to see results.

JAG's mission is to work for solutions on defined issues and not to engage in a perpetual cycle of conflict, so we're pleased to announce these developments, and hope this will be the beginning of the end of the billing crisis.

Note: for further information, please refer to our Updated Billing Crisis Information Leaflet for Residents and Businesses - there's a link to it in the sidebar.  

Thursday, 24 February 2011

A Small Breakthrough


We're pleased to hear via the media that the report on the Joburg billing crisis requested by the Minister of Cooperative Governance has been completed, and is due to be handed over to both the department and the Public Protector. We applaud Minister Shiceko for ensuring that this report was, indeed, speedily produced, and hope that appropriate measures will now be taken to resolve the crisis.

It has, however, been extremely difficult for JAG to manage its campaign and to respond in an informed way to resident complaints and media queries, as we have received no formal feedback from any level of government about the billing crisis. Everything we know about the measures being taken to address the serious problems within the municipal billing system has had to be gleaned from the media.

We would therefore like to suggest that the city appoints an experienced communications company with crisis management experience to issue daily updates to both the media and to interested and affected parties should a situation like this arise in the future.

We would also like to suggest that the city conducts a weekly media briefing, followed by a Q&A session. This would help to keep residents and community groups informed about important issues, developing problems and the measures being taken to address these issues - and to mitigate against the kind of confusion that has arisen during the billing crisis campaign.

Also, as many residents are still in a desperate situation, and as there are still very concerning reports coming in from both individuals and businesses about how their complaints are being dealt with, we will continue to publicise specific complaints in order to illustrate the nature and extent of the situation. And we will, needless to say, be keeping a very watchful eye on developments.

We will also shortly be publishing an updated and more comprehensive version of the information leaflet for residents that we published in November, and we will make that available here as well as on our Facebook page. The new leaflet will provide information not only about avenues for redress within the government system and through such agencies as the Public Protector, but will also provide information on the legal steps residents can take should they need to. The leaflet will replace the current information leaflet and previous resident advisories.

NOTE: Regular updates are being posted on our Facebook page (Joburg Advocacy Group) and @JoburgAdvocacy on Twitter (billing crisis tweets are tagged #jbills).

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Misplaced Optimism


Well, fellow Joburg residents, it seems our optimism about local, provincial and national government working together to solve the Joburg billing crisis was misplaced.


After we started our billing crisis campaign on 14 January, there was silence for about a week. This despite the fact that we'd called on the provincial MEC for Local Government to institute an official investigation into the billing crisis in terms of the Municipal Systems Act, which he never even bothered to acknowledge.

Then the Minister of Cooperative Development confirmed there was a serious problem with Joburg's billing, but the Mayor and senior city officials soon came out and denied that this was a crisis (approximately 90,000 affected residents would disagree).

The following week, the Minister committed to an investigation into the crisis and the new billing system that has cost taxpayers approximately R80 million.Then the ANC called a summit of all the mayors in Gauteng to discuss widespread billing problems throughout the province and the Chair of the Finance Committee for the city said on a radio show on MixFM 93.8 community radio that anyone with unresolved complaints could mail him and he would get them resolved (he only problem with this is that his mailbox is always full) .

We've heard nothing since.

We see mouths moving, but we don't see ANY action either to assist desperate residents or to resolve the deeper issues at play here.

So it's up to civil society organisations and residents themselves to continue to take PEACEFUL DIRECT ACTION in order to get this and other pressing issues resolved.

Please have a look at our latest advisory for residents for further information.


Also, please be advised that there is a billing protest planned for 18 February at 08:30. This will take place outside Thuso House, on the corner of Simmonds and Stiemens Streets in Braamfontein (opposite the Joburg Theatre, previously the Civic Theatre). Note: this is the billing queries entrance and not the main entrance in Jorissen Street. Limited parking is available at the theatre or nearby at Constitution Hill. Marshalls will be on duty and a memorandum will be handed over to the city by "irate" city councillor, David Dewes.

While we understand that most residents are working people, we urge you to ask your employer for the morning off so that you can support this important democratic process.

It's easy to complain, but unless we all take continuous, meaningful direct action, nothing is going to change.

And don't forget to keep up the pressure on Joburg Connect, senior city officials, the Public Protector and the National Energy Regulator (NERSA). Further details are available on our latest advisory note and also on the information leaflet we published on 14 November.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Some Good News on the Billing Crisis

 
We're pleased to see that the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, whose department is tasked with monitoring the implementation of such legislation as the Municipal Systems Act and the Local Government Municipal Finance Management Act, is moving decisively to address the Joburg billing crisis.

Photograph courtesy of The Times


First came the news early yesterday afternoon of Minister Shiceka's intention to launch an official investigation into the billing crisis in the city, and then of the fact that he had called a summit with the mayors from all 14 municipalities to address more widespread billing irregularities in Gauteng.

JAG has expressed cautious optimism about the Minister's intervention, but continues to advocate for short- and medium-term relief for residents while the proposed investigation gets underway.

We've proposed a three-tiered approach to address the billing issue in the short-, medium- and long-term:

The first step was to call for an official investigation into the Joburg billing crisis in terms of the Municipal Systems Act because that's the only way to get to the root of the problem and to ensure that something like this doesn't - and can't - happen again.

But investigations take time and, in the short-term, we've called for a moratorium on power cuts until the billing system can be proved to be stable and functioning correctly. We'd also like to see power restored to residents whose accounts are currently in dispute until these disputes can be resolved.

In the medium-term, we'd like to see a "closed" complaints system being introduced off existing Joburg Connect capacity. A closed complaints system allows for logged tickets (resident complaints) to be closed off only if the original complainant agrees that the problem has been appropriately addressed. This, we believe, would prevent complaints from falling into a huge black hole of inaction, incompetence and corruption.

We've also suggested that it become mandatory for all city employees to wear name tags that reflect their employee numbers. This will enable residents to log complaints about inefficiency, poor service and corruption - all of which is widespread - more efficiently and effectively.

So again, we're cautiously optimistic about yesterday's developments, but continue to keep a vigilant eye on the billing situation in the city.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Tweet if You Want Accountable Government

Social networks are becoming an increasingly powerful tool for dealing with poor governance and unaccountable government, as this Zapiro cartoon, published last week, shows:


USE THE POWER OF SOCIAL NETWORKING TO DEAL WITH THE JOBURG BILLING CRISIS.

FOLLOW OUR TWITTER CAMPAIGN AND JOIN THE CONVERSATION - TWEETS ARE TAGGED #jbills.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Update on the Joburg Municipal Billing Crisis


The residents of Johannesburg have had enough! The municipal billing crisis continues to escalate and the city is doing nothing about it. Even complaints to the Public Protector aren't being acknowledged.


Well, local government may be in a state of collapse, but South Africa is still subject to the rule of law (or, at least, we hope so!). So we've written to the Gauteng Provincial MEC for Local Government and Housing, asking him to initiate an official investigation into the crisis in terms of the Municipal Systems Act and the Constitution.

The DA has used this letter and the information leaflet we issued in November to motivate for a special session of Council to debate the billing crisis as a matter of urgency. The party's Finance Committee has been trying to get this issue onto the agenda for several months, but all requests have been denied by the Speaker, who feels the matter isn't urgent! We're waiting to hear what the response to this request will be.

In the meantime, our special thanks to Jenny Crwys-Williams, one of the country's top consumer journalists, for mentioning our call for an investigation on her Radio 702 talk show yesterday. Jenny has been covering the billing crisis in depth, and we're very grateful for her support.

Today, reports are coming in that over 100 angry residents are protesting outside the Council's offices demanding that billing errors be rectified. Watch the press for details or follow our Joburg Billing Crisis Campaign on Twitter - posts are tagged #jbills.

Lead image courtesy of The Hurst Review.