City of Joburg in limbo as it battles to afford temporary HQ

Johannesburg Metro Centre vacant after a fire; council postpones meetings, grappling with costly venue issues and load shedding.


The Johannesburg Metro Centre has been a ghost town after a transformer went up in flames three weeks ago. Parts of the building caught fire, resulting in the evacuation of city officials, including mayor Kabelo Gwamanda and speaker Colleen Makhubele, and staff are being forced to work from home. A council sitting scheduled for Wednesday had to be postponed because of lack of a venue. According to a source in the Joburg municipality, the only alternative was a venue which would have cost the city more than R1 million. Makhubele said it was not a rumour or speculation that the…

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The Johannesburg Metro Centre has been a ghost town after a transformer went up in flames three weeks ago.

Parts of the building caught fire, resulting in the evacuation of city officials, including mayor Kabelo Gwamanda and speaker Colleen Makhubele, and staff are being forced to work from home.

A council sitting scheduled for Wednesday had to be postponed because of lack of a venue.

According to a source in the Joburg municipality, the only alternative was a venue which would have cost the city more than R1 million.

Makhubele said it was not a rumour or speculation that the available venues which would have accommodated councillors were over R1 million per day.

All the city-owned venues were occupied. Alternatives were venues like Nasrec, the Gallagher Convention Centre or the Sandton Convention Centre.

READ: Joburg under siege: ‘No accidents but foul play’, says municipal manager

“We needed venues that are big enough to hold council, caucuses, invite residents, media and have somewhere to have refreshments etc. There are certain requirements we need to meet,” she said.

“The quotes were over R1 million. For us to continue with those venues would mean supply chain deviation and it also talks to cost containments as well.

“This is way beyond our cost containment policy and supply chain policy.”

Some councillors have refused to have the meeting virtually, citing network problems because of load shedding.

Makhubele said council would sit in the next week or two, as they had now made plans to use a city-owned venue in Brixton.

They had received a report on Tuesday from the city manager’s office that the Metro Centre should be vacated as they could not guarantee the safety of any members of the staff or the councillors.

The building posed health and safety risks.

“The Metro Centre is vacant,” she said. “There is no water, there is no electricity. Everybody is working from home.

“The city manager and the team undertook to look for alternative venues,” she said.

Asked how long it would take to fix the building, Makhubele said was still unclear.

“If you remember, (last year) we pushed from the legislature that people must vacate the Metro Centre because from 2016 or even earlier, we had reports that it’s not safe. Then we had a fire in the Metro Centre,” she said.

“We need to find an alternative centre that will be our customer centre, to allow the Metro Centre to be renovated because it cannot be demolished as it is a heritage site and the council wing is pretty new.”

She added they would be having a chair’s committee today and one of the key things to be discussed was the plan on where to go from here.

Political analyst Dr Hermon Berhane Ogbamichael said as Johannesburg was one of the major cosmopolitan cities, this was a big blow to the politicians and councillors running the metro.

National government would have to intervene because what was happening was going to affect service delivery and “as a major trading hub, it is going to affect the economy and some foreign investment”.

Political analyst Dr Ralph Mathekga said Johannesburg was a city in crisis and no longer a world-class city.

“It is a joke for anyone to try and use that phrase now.

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