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IN 10 years, Amos Masondo has made a deep impression on the City of Johannesburg. He has worked hard to turn it into a “world-class African city”.
A BUSTLING metropolis characterised by scores of vehicles exuding the ghastly smell of diesel fumes, trams roving the streets, dozens of clothing shops displaying merchandise on sale and soaring buildings – this was Executive Mayor Amos Masondo’s first impression of Johannesburg when he arrived in the city as a young boy.

Joburg is a bustling metropolisJoburg is a bustling metropolisYears of political activism later, Masondo became the first mayor of a centralised Joburg metropolitan city in 2000. He served two consecutive terms until this year, the first mayor to stay in office that long.
Taking over a city like Joburg was always going to be a challenge. There were about two million residents, issues of urbanisation, gentrification, migrants, in-migration, high unemployment levels and a tussle for limited resources between the poorest of the poor.

Masondo says that when he took office he envisioned Joburg as a leader in business, a dynamic centre of production, innovation, trade, finance and services. “We have said that this should be a city of opportunity, where the benefits of balanced economic growth [are] shared in a way that enables all residents to gain access to a ladder of prosperity and where the poor, the vulnerable and the excluded [are] supported out of poverty to realise upward social mobility,” he explains.

The plan was to make Joburg a more equitable and spatially integrated city, different from that of the past, he says. “In this world-class African city for all, everyone would be able to enjoy decent accommodation, excellent services, the highest standards in safety, access to participatory governance, quality community life in sustainable neighbourhoods and vibrant urban spaces.”

Watch a video of the Executive Mayor Amos Masondo talk about his 10 years in office.
And 10 years later, Masondo is happy with the outcome. “I am happy that a lot of the goals we set for ourselves have been realised, but it’s work in progress. Every brick we put in place we know for sure it will ultimately lead to a whole house or the whole structure being in place.”

Masondo inherited a racially divided Joburg with a litany of challenges, service delivery backlogs, financial malfunctions and large disparities between its people. His administration first sought to drive the municipality out of an economic muddle, and then reconstruct its spatial patterns, decreasing backlogs and expanding services to those previously marginalised.

People from various parts of Africa call Joburg homePeople from various parts of Africa call Joburg home“I think we have done very well,” he says, giving credit to a group of councillors that preceded his term as mayor.

Of course, there were difficulties and limitations to delivering services. Urbanisation and migration kept threatening progress, he says. “Many people in the country from rural areas and farms, even from small towns, tend to migrate to bigger cities and in this instance come to Joburg in bigger numbers. We had to deal with this.”

And it is not only locals who are migrating, but foreign nationals too. This finally proved to him that Joburg was a “truly” cosmopolitan city. “We take a progressive view in relation to migrants, which seeks to ensure that we don’t become a city that discriminates against any grouping of people and individuals. In dealing with this challenge we do so keeping in mind the need to be inclusive.”

Masondo says he’s learned a lot, especially the fact that the focal point of local government is the wellbeing of people. “Government is about the wellbeing of people; it’s about serving the people, and any other thing is secondary. This is at centre of what we do,” he notes.

“I am grateful that I was given an opportunity to serve and to be part of a generation of leaders and people who are working to ensure that we lift the bar and set a high standard.” He hopes his incumbents – the next team of councillors and the political and administrative leadership of the city – will work to sustain that impetus for those who come after them.

Fast and affordable: The BRT systemFast and affordable: The BRT systemMasondo is habitually taciturn, only speaking when spoken to. He is revered among his peers, and admired for his veracity. He has conventional rules of social behaviour and professional conduct, administrating Joburg as if being mayor is his vocation.
Bus Rapid Transit

However modest he is, Masondo is a man of high standards and those he certainly aspired to set since taking office. His administration pioneered Africa’s first Bus Rapid Transit system, hosted Africa’s first World Cup, and steered the biggest economy on the African continent out of a financial muddle, creating jobs and offering even the most destitute an opportunity to celebrate the success of their city.

But these are not the only feats under Masondo’s belt: he championed the planting of more than 200 000 trees in Soweto, in a bid to eradicate the greening disparities in the northern and southern parts of the metro; restored people’s dignity in their neighbourhoods by providing adequate services; got rid of some informal settlements and provided decent housing for some; bolstered law enforcement; won plenty of accolades; regenerated the inner city and other commercial nodes to help restore investor confidence; and provided social and economic amenities to all communities.

He has been cognisant of social ills, drafting a blueprint on tackling issues such as unemployment, HIV/Aids and poverty, including underdevelopment.

And after 10 years of service, Masondo says there is no resemblance between the Joburg of today and that of yesteryear. “I remember coming to Joburg being very young with my father and the first impression was the bustle of the city … Joburg has come a long way since the days of the trams and it has been a journey that is fascinating,” he recounts.

Executive mayor Amos Masondo plants the last of 200 000 trees in SowetoExecutive mayor Amos Masondo plants the last of 200 000 trees in Soweto“We are building a city of the future but that city must be built now; so we utilise all resources available at our disposal to do so and to position us to be able to grapple with challenges that will confront us in future.”
Masondo says he would like to be remembered as a team player. “A person who worked together with a collective leadership at both the administrative and political level, in laying a foundation for Joburg to become a world-class African city for all.”

Should he be commemorated, it should be as one who inspired others to achieve their desired success. “One can only do so much as an individual. The complementing or collaborative efforts of the team make a difference,” he says.

He would like to be kept in mind as a man who initiated partnerships, between civil society, NGOs and the business sector. “They all have a role to play; they assist in catapulting the city meaningfully forward.”

The mayor will probably continue with the work of the ANC when he steps down. He has proved his allegiance to the political party he joined in his youth, and kept its policy of not commenting on his successor.

Joburg’s next mayor, to be announced after the 18 May local government elections, has a tough task ahead to sustain the momentum set up by Masondo.

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