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By Sydney Majoko


Joburg now saddled with huge infrastructural bill that could have been avoided

World-class cities don’t just build themselves, they are build by political leadership that listens and takes action to avoid catastrophes.

In November 2018, the then mayor of the City of Joburg, Herman Mashaba, tried to bring the danger that lies beneath the surface of the city to the attention of the departments of mineral resources and energy, as well as cooperative governance and traditional affairs.

Nothing was done after the several letters he wrote to the national departments and he was instead referred to some committee that hardly ever sat for meetings.

According to a Sunday Times report at the time, no-one wanted to take responsibility for the control of the illegal mining that is going on in the closed mines under the city.

WATCH: Bree Street explosion aftermath

Mashaba, Transnet and Sasol officials warned that it is only a matter of time before illegal miners blasted, or dug too close to a gas or fuel pipeline that could result in a catastrophic event.

The cause of last Wednesday’s blast that ripped open sections Lilian Ngoyi Street (formerly Bree street) has not yet been determined, almost a week after the explosion. The explosion, so powerful it tossed up minibus taxis into the air, caused much infrastructural damage and left one person death and many injuries.

There is no guarantee that what Mashaba tried to bring to the attention of the national government will be found to be the cause of the blast, or even associated with the blast at all. But it cannot be denied that had his warnings been taken to heart back then, some form of monitoring the underground pipelines in and around the city would have been implemented.

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Instead of running around like headless chickens, with Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi appealing to companies that could assist with determining the cause of the blast to come forward, the city’s crisis management structures should have been activated and the cause of the blast quickly determined.

It sounds so desperate when the leader of South Africa’s richest province begs for assistance on national media for something that a “world-class” city should have as part of its structures.

Part of the industry he was appealing to had, within hours of the blast, distanced itself from being possibly part of the cause of the blast. What if they came to be part of the investigation of the cause?

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When Mashaba warned of the blast, part of the emphasis on the warning was: “It was not a matter of if but when a blast will occur.”

It might seem callous to characterise the city as having been lucky that the blast only claimed one life and most of those treated for injuries were released shortly afterwards. But considering that oil, gas and fuel run in the pipelines under the city, things could have turned out much worse than they did.

It is quite sad that a city that has had political leadership instability for years– and has been slowly decaying due to lack of maintenance – is now saddled with a huge infrastructural bill that could have been avoided.

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A world-class city has things in place. It has its own engineers and experts to quickly determine causes of life-threatening catastrophic events. It doesn’t appeal for charitable goodwill from the private sector because that could compromise it.

A world-class city has a world-class mayor who takes the lead in cases like this. People still remember former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani for his sterling role after the 11 September, 2001 attacks on the city.

A world-class city has a budget that ensures that infrastructure is maintained and everything runs like clockwork. But world-class cities don’t just build themselves, they are build by political leadership that listens and takes action to avoid catastrophes.

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