On 27 October, Gogo Ethel Lifero, a 72-year-old grandmother stood next to her fence chatting to some of her neighbours.
She was curious to see men and women in reflective vests milling around the house across the street and fixing the sewerage pipe that had burst four days earlier.
One of the men in the 30-strong Citizen Relationships and Urban Management entourage approached her and, after exchanging greetings with her, said: “We’re from the City of Joburg. We’re here to attend to any problems you might have, mama.”
Without hesitation, Gogo Lifero invited them into her home. She showed them the damage her leaking roof was causing to her furniture.
“This roof was damaged during that severe storm earlier this year. I’ve reported it to the [local municipal] office but nothing has been done since,” she said.
She also showed them the damage in the spare bedroom, where she had tried to seal the holes in the roof.
“But this hasn’t helped. When it rains I sleep in the shack,” she said.
Her beautiful ceiling boards in the kitchen have also been damaged.
“I paid R2 000 for the boards and R800 for labour. But look at them now, they have been damaged,” she said, adding that she had also replaced three window panes since she moved into her RDP house in 2007.
The City’s workers had descended on Thulani Extensions 1 and 2, near Doornkop, Soweto, to attend to some of their problems as part of the City’s Integrated Community Outreach Programme.
Aaron Moholatsi, one of 10 inspectors responsible for the 17 wards in the area, said this was the first of many visits to attend to service delivery issues.
And every municipal-owned entity was there, Johannesburg Water got down to fixing an overflowing sewerage pipe at Agnes Tshabalala’s home, which she shares with three relatives. Tshabalala, with her baby on the hip, said sewage had been flowing since 23 October.
“Joburg Water people came on Saturday (25 October), but left without fixing it. It’s smelly and a health hazard. Our kids cannot even play inside because some of it overflows into the house,” she said.
Regional Director Mlamleli Belot instructed his entourage to get the problem sorted out. Someone from Joburg Water was summoned to attend to it.
Aging infrastructure and overcrowding were cited as the major causes of sewerage blockages and water leaks. But there is a plan in place to fix Thulani and other areas, he said.
“This is a problem of under-development. We have a programme for new roads, electrification and roads resurfacing of roads. It’s an ongoing development programme and we have plans to deal with this,” said Belot.
Councillor Jabulani Thomo led door-to-door visits while workmen cleaned the streets – picking up litter and handing out pamphlets.
City Power staff were educating residents about the dangers of illegal electricity connections, while JMPD Officer Ouma Morudi handed out valuable tips about fire crackers and rules of the road.
“These are very dangerous, especially with the festive season coming. Fire crackers cause a lot of damage,” she said.
Added Moholatsi: “Illegal connections are a very big problem. Most people here are unemployed and they say they cannot afford the prepaid electricity. That’s why they resort to this.
“They connect to street light poles. Apart from costing the City millions of rands a year, it’s also dangerous because the cables are run across the street. Luckily, there haven’t been any electrocutions. We hope people will listen to us today,” he said.
Moholatsi said solar power was an alternative worth exploring.
Thomo, a former activist, has been a councillor since 2011. He was happy the storm water drainage problem was being addressed.
He said for the 2013-2014 financial year, R16.1-million was budgeted for this project and a similar amount has been set aside for 2014-2015 to upgrade the storm water drainage system.
“The sewage system is also overwhelmed; it is no longer able to carry the load. We have sewerage overflows almost daily. Joburg Water is tackling that too,” he said.
Thomo said the area, which is serviced by a satellite police station, was also battling crime. Drugs, guns and illegal sheebens and taverns were a big problem.
“Hopefully, this awareness drive will show people here that we are determined to deliver services. That’s why all the municipal-owned entities are here today, to spread the message. People should also know about the bylaws.”
Thomo, whose constituency has a population of 37 000, said he was very excited that the outreach programme had been launched in his ward.
Local resident Thembi Khumalo was happy that the campaign also focused on bylaw enforcement. She complained that some residents dumped their rubbish in the open space near her house.
“They even dump dead dogs. It’s so smelly. Some people, whose rubbish is not collected, dump it next to my house. I stand guard when I hear a dustbin being wheeled towards my house. Together with a neighbour, we blow whistles to scare them off. Sometimes I go outside to confront them or to take down the number of their bins so I can report them at the office. Two years ago, people were told they would be fined R1 000 for illegal dumping. It stopped for a while but has started again. People need to be educated about why this is a health hazard,” Khumalo said.
The Joburg Road Agency’s crew fixed potholes, trenches and renewed road markings while Pikitup cleaned dumping sites. City Power staff fixed street lights and educated the community about why illegal connections are wrong.
“This way is very effective. You see the difference,” Moholatsi said.
Thomo said while the Doornkop Recreation Centre nearby had netball and basketball courts, more diverse sporting facilities were needed for local youth.
“Young people feel left out, they feel neglected. That’s why they end up doing wrong things. We also need a library,” he said.
Two representatives of leading bank Absa were also on hand to give residents financial advice.
As for Gogo Lifero, officials took down all the details of her complaint with the promise of dealing with it in a decisive and holistic manner at a later stage.