Sowetan CDE article

The people of Johannesburg are right to take pride in their city, which has many notable features. It is Africa’s only ‘world city’, the only place on the continent that is home to major corporate headquarters and banks, which can compete as equals on world markets.

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  • It is the only city in Africa that has significant numbers of world-class legal, accounting, advertising, information technology and media services.
  • Its stock exchange is one of the largest and strongest in any emerging market.
  • Some 60 percent of South African retail activity takes place in Johannesburg, both in the central business district and shopping centres spread throughout its suburbs.
  • The ‘business buzz’ can be felt all over the city. It is now a finance and services city as opposed to only being the ‘City of Gold’.
  • But it has kept its most important historical tradition: its entrepreneurial culture, the fact that it has always been a ‘city on the make’, to which people have been attracted from all over Southern Africa and the world.

This energetic, entrepreneurial attitude has been shared by black and white people alike for more than a century, though often in a way damaged – but never destroyed – by racial discrimination.


But there are challenges for the city. Its finances, quality of governance, urban environment, transportation systems and information technology infrastructure are not globally competitive and some are slipping.

It also faces three obstacles not shared by other world cities: crime, which is particularly violent here; a shortage of skilled managers and professionals; and a health and welfare crisis worsened by hiv/aids.

The city council believes that progress will need to be made on the first two issues for the economy to grow and to create employment.

It cannot turn the city around on its own, nor can the African National Congress, on its own, take the decisions that are essential for the city to emerge as a world-class centre for economic growth and opportunities for the millions of skilled and unskilled people.

Business leaders or civic associations cannot influence the direction and health of the city on their own.
Poor citizens cannot ‘make their own way’ and enjoy the opportunities created by democracy, unless changes take place. What should be done?

In its new report on the future of the city, Johannesburg, Africa’s World City, a Challenge to Action, CDE argues that the issues facing Johannesburg are so complex, and so important to all South Africans, that they require a national partnership. This partnership should be built on the city council’s Joburg 2030 vision, to ensure the competitiveness of this city.

Priorities for action

The priorities for action by the partnership should include:

  • Getting the basics right: This should include dramatically lowering the crime rate, improving transport, deregulating telecommunications, relaxing labour regulations that constrain enterprise and employment, improving city management and improving the city’s health systems, including its response to HIV/AIDS;
  • Making Johannesburg a competitive ‘open city’: Addressing skills shortage by significantly improving training and education, harnessing the capacity of the private sector, recruiting skilled foreigners and creating a globally competitive tax regime for companies and individuals;
  • Effective city-wide planning: Move away from the dominant focus on the old CBD and on Alexandra, and re-examine all the city’s key development nodes and the linkages between them, with ‘world city’ concerns in mind;
  • For example, Soweto and Orange Farm should be closely linked to the rest of Johannesburg.
  • Transforming the southern townships and informal settlements into vibrant business hubs containing small firms of computer technicians, electricians, building maintenance operators, security service providers and caterers – as opposed to an army of road-side hawkers, shebeen operators and unemployed youth – is an important economic priority for Johannesburg; and
  • Strengthening neighbourhoods: Successful world cities have to provide an excellent environment for business and make sure that the quality of life of the residents is maintained.

There is little opportunity for local voices to be heard and specific neighbourhoods to flourish in their own distinctive ways.

CDE recommends that Johannesburg strengthen its neighbourhoods through two initiatives.

First, the city should establish a neighbourhood initiative fund for neighbourhood-based development projects.

Second, Johannesburg should improve local accountability by allowing for local referenda on critical issues in neighbourhoods, and / or the election of local ward committees that can hold city councillors directly responsible to the electorate.

Finally, CDE recommends that national partnerships reassess Johannesburg’s leadership needs and how we govern and manage the world city.

Elected mayor

Do we need a directly elected mayor? Running Johannesburg is one of the top six public sector jobs in the country.

It should be one of the biggest and highest-profile political jobs, attracting the most talented politicians to its challenges and rewards. Mechanisms are needed to involve senior business leaders in strategies to turn Johannesburg into a competitive world city.

Johannesburg has been a place where people of different origins have had a real chance of making a good life for themselves.

Unless it stops ‘slipping’ from the list of competitive world cities, fewer people will have that chance.

It would be a terrible shame if the people of Johannesburg, who now enjoy political freedom, lose their economic opportunities.

A national initiative to keep Johannesburg a competitive ‘world city’ is urgently required.