WATCH | Alex residents living on mountains of rubbish

10 April 2019 - 06:53 By Iavan Pijoos

"It's not healthy. Even if you clean your house, it always stinks - especially after rain. It is like [the rubbish] is inside of the house," says Patience Mramba.

Standing in a pair of striped pink and white slippers next to her brightly-painted orange home in Alexandra, she points at a mountain of rubbish. Near it is a notice with the words "No illegal dumping".

Along with the stench of rubbish, a sense of hopelessness - and anger - lingers in the air.

Alex, as it is informally known, is a poor urban area with a view of Sandton, one of the wealthiest suburbs in the country's economic heartland in the north of Johannesburg.

Rocks, burnt tyres and rubbish have been strewn across the area's streets after residents embarked on a week-long protest to highlight the lack of service delivery in the area, as well as the high crime rate.

Despite visits from Johannesburg MMC for public safety Michael Sun last week and Gauteng premier David Makhura on Tuesday, people who live here say they feel ignored.

Mramba, 31, said the rubbish in her area was only picked up twice a week. "It's not just us who's dumping here. Everybody from East Bank and all around us, they come and drop their things here ... Others are coming with cars to come and dump here."

Among her list of demands is for the government to provide them with big plastic dustbins.

"We need the bins, then people don't have to drive all the way here to dump their rubbish," she told TimesLIVE.

Patience Mramba stands amid piles of rubbish outside her home in Alexandra on Tuesday.
Patience Mramba stands amid piles of rubbish outside her home in Alexandra on Tuesday.
Image: Sunday Times/Alaister Russell

Another resident, George Rangwanasha, was born and bred in Alex. But in all his years there, he says he is yet to see any meaningful change.

Rangwanasha stands near a local high school, where children gather on the pavement next to a busy road. The corrugated-iron school fence is broken and a large pile of rubbish lies near the gate.

The 49-year-old, who currently lives in a shack in Marlboro, describes the situation in Alexandra as a "crisis".

"The recent administration of [Johannesburg mayor Herman] Mashaba is doing Alex bad. You can go all over Alex, it is dirty. It is affecting the community. The kids don't have toys - now they are playing between the rubbish ... Alex people want service delivery. He is [allowing] people from outside to live in our RDP houses while we are suffering."

Rangwanasha was not pleased with Makhura's visit on Tuesday. "He didn't communicate well with the community. The community was supposed to not go work and wait for him so that he can address them. [Government officials] must make sure all of them come and address the people," he said.

As his anger boiled over, Rangwanasha had harsh words for the mayor, warning: "If Mashaba comes here, we will kill him!" 

Rangwanasha said crime was on the rise in the area, with people being shot on a daily basis. "Government must come and address our concerns in a proper way," he urged.

Homes being built in parts of Alexandra.
Homes being built in parts of Alexandra.
Image: Sunday Times/Alaister Russell

In River Park, new illegal brick structures are being built. Sewerage oozes across the street.

During his recent visit to the area, Makhura said the most urgent task at hand was to stop the building of illegal structures. If this was achieved, "then the community can believe that the rest can be done. Refuse must be picked up, sort out the sewerage system and housing must be sorted," he said.

"We have flats here that have not been allocated, but have been illegally occupied," he added.

Commenting on Mashaba's apparent failure to visit the people of Alex at the height of their calls to meet with him, Makhura (ANC) claimed the DA mayor "doesn't like to go where it's hot".

Makhura said he would let Mashaba "tag along" on Thursday, when President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to visit Alex.

"In any event, for people not to take responsibility or throw it at another party will not help the people of Alexandra," he added. 

Residents of Alexandra are fed up with living among piles of rubbish.
Residents of Alexandra are fed up with living among piles of rubbish.
Image: Alaister Russell

Meanwhile, Mashaba said he had received information from Maj-Gen Shadrack Sibiya, head of the city's anti-corruption unit, that there would be a "full forensic investigation" into the Alexandra Renewal Project (ARP).

He said the R16bn set aside by national and provincial government for the project had been looted and used by the ANC as a "tool for self-enrichment".

"This is precisely why the ANC, premier Makhura and President Ramaphosa are so desperate to place the grievances of the people of Alexandra at the door of the City of Johannesburg," said Mashaba.

"I place no stock in premier Makhura’s announcement of an investigation into the ARP. He has served as the premier of Gauteng since 2014 and has never once taken any interest in the matter - until now."

Mashaba said he would engage with Alexandra residents on Monday April 15.