The author Heidi Holland, in this lovely piece from the Mail & Guardian, called the people of her city “permanently aggrieved yet incapable of changing the script.” If nothing else, though, Joburgers have proven themselves to have a sense of humor, as illustrated by this interview from the Sunday Times, with journo Chris Barron asking the questions and Joburg mayor Amos Masondo fumbling the answers.
Is Joburg ready for the World Cup?
I think we are.
What about the potholes?
We are addressing that problem.
What about the trenches that are left open for months for people to fall into?
Again, that’s one of the big problems.
What about the broken traffic lights?
It’s being addressed in an ongoing way.
What about the street lights that don’t work?
You keep on mentioning these things one by one. And my answer is an honest one, to say yes, there are gaps, and we are working on addressing the problems.
What about the missing street signs?
The matter has been raised with the mayoral committee by the executive director of 2010. And, again, a commitment has been made that we’ll be upgrading these in the next two to three months.
What about the litter?
The city’s much cleaner than it used to be.
There’s still a lot of rubbish around, though, isn’t there?
There is a lot of rubbish around. Pikitup is working on a programme that seeks to mobilise communities.
What about the blocked stormwater drains?
Yes, because it rains quite heavily. Some of the problems … have been exposed and we are addressing them.
That’s an issue of maintenance, isn’t it?
Yes, it’s an issue of maintenance, but you know …
They’re not being properly maintained?
They’re not being properly maintained. It’s the kind of thing that should be done in winter.
Why isn’t it happening?
There have been some problems there.
What about the lack of reliable public transport?
Well, I mean we have introduced BRT (bus rapid transit).
On all routes?
Not all the routes.
Do you use public transport?
Once in a while, yes. I use a taxi once in a while.
Wouldn’t it send an encouraging message if you used public transport to get to work?
I don’t know if you’re aware of this but annually, every October or so, we use public transport.
You use public transport every October?
Just to try and encourage people to use public transport.
So you use public transport once a year?
Yes sir. I don’t use public transport daily.
Don’t you want to encourage people to use public transport?
We’re doing our bit.
The mayor of New York uses public transport every day to get to work.
The mayor of New York?
The current mayor of London goes to work on a bicycle.
That’s going to the other extreme, but he’s doing something that’s positive.
Do you think you might use a bicycle one day?
I will do anything possible to incline people in the right direction, but I will not do a public stunt simply for the sake of it.
If the public transport was any good would you use it?
So you admit that it’s not?
It’s not very good, but there is something that we are doing to get public transport right.
You plug Joburg as a world-class city. Isn’t this false advertising?
No, it’s not false at all. That’s a goal we’re working towards, that’s a vision.
In your view what makes Joburg a world-class city?
One has had an opportunity to travel to many cities in the world and therefore I’ve had an opportunity to compare and reflect. Very clearly, Joburg is one of the best cities on the African continent.
But you call it a world-class city?
We are definitely moving in that direction. If you’re talking global cities in the world Joburg is definitely one of them.
What are your criteria for a world-class city?
I don’t know if you’re familiar with our Joburg vision statement?
Is it the vision of a world-class city that makes it a world-class city, or the reality?
What reality are you talking about?
Do you know of any other world-class city where an unelected mayor has been in office for 10 years?
Unelected? What do you mean by that?
That you haven’t been elected.
I’m sure you know that the political system is different in South Africa. I get elected by the councillors of Johannesburg.
In other words you’re deployed by the ANC, not elected by the people?
If you want to criticise the ANC and bash it, do so. But don’t try funny tricks. That won’t get us anywhere.