Recently, Johannesburg, known as “The City of Gold,” received a bad review from Chinese journalists who described the city as filthy. Besides being rated the crime capital of South Africa, the city has declined to a slum status. Overcrowding, filth and unsanitary conditions are coupled with plagues of rats and beggars and the highest rate of unemployed people. Street vendors crowd the pavements selling food, clothing and electronic items. Children, including small babies, strapped to mothers’ backs, tag along through the chaos.
The city is crowded with unemployed people who have nothing better to do than commit petty crimes or start a business selling goods to other desperate people eager to save some money. Vendors cook food on the pavements to sell to hungry people dirt cheap. Flies and the other irritating pests that swarm around the nauseating smell are appalling. The city does not have sufficient public facilities, and the few that do exist are in a dilapidated condition; unhealthy, dirty and foul smelling.
Criminal elements lurk around the filthy streets, stealing from innocent vendors who sit in the hot sun trying to make a few pennies to feed and support large families. Shops in the central city district have employed additional security to protect the premises from lurking thieves. Steel gates, security cameras and guards patrol the area daily. Pick-pocketing is an art mastered by the young and old alike. Johannesburg’s city center is not a safe place.
The unemployed, uneducated people have nowhere to go, no home to live in and often resort to building shacks from discarded materials, such as aluminum, cardboard and any other scraps found. The informal houses are unsafe fire hazards and are unhygienic and littered with an accumulation of filth. On most corners, rubbish is dumped by people in the city and cleaning up is problematic. Public transport is almost non-existent, and minibus taxi drivers are often driving unsafe vehicles to dominate the system. The noise factor is deafening between the honking of taxis, adults screaming and babies crying.
Areas adjacent to the city center, such as Hillbrow, once known as the nightlife town; Yeoville and Berea are no better than the inner center. Further away from the center of Johannesburg, residential suburbs are relatively cleaner and safer, except for several older, established neighborhoods that are overrun by illegal immigrants, drug dealers and prostitution.
The Johannesburg municipality is under the jurisdiction of the African National Congress (ANC) party. The obvious lack of infrastructure, derelict buildings and poor maintenance reflects how the ruling party has neglected the voters and ignores the predicament of the poor. While Johannesburg’s city center remains the prominent place of evil, big businesses have relocated to safer places. Sandton, now the financial hub of South Africa, remains a vibrant, protected and clean city attracting many visitors who prefer the safety and proper infrastructure.
The Chinese journalists visited Cape Town, a city under the municipality of the Democratic Alliance (DA), and gave a five-star rating to the city. Cape Town remains a city that is a shining example of good governance. Notably, the cleanliness, public transport and visible policing proves that under the right government, cities around South Africa can maintain an excellent rating.
Opinion by Laura Oneale
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All Images Courtesy of Laura Oneale