Service delivery issues not solved? Johannesburg ombudsman will assist but is your last resort

23 February 2024 - 08:10
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Advocate Siduduzo Gumede is the City of Johannesburg ombudsman.
Advocate Siduduzo Gumede is the City of Johannesburg ombudsman.
Image: Supplied

Are you frustrated with Johannesburg entities failing to resolve issues of basic services? 

The office of the ombudsman in the City of Johannesburg is your last resort to report some issues frustrating residents daily.

The office investigates complaints of maladministration and promotes a culture of respect for human rights. 

At the helm of this office is advocate Siduduzo Gumede, who works with a team of investigators to probe complaints.

"How do I do that? How do I investigate maladministration? I receive written complaints.  

"I am dealing with the usual complaints about old infrastructure and water infrastructure, for example in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg," he said. 

Gumede, a member of the Johannesburg bar from 2005 until December 2014, started with the office of the ombudsman in January 2015 when Parks Tau was mayor of the city.  

"I had acquired skills, specially in the private sector, to help with governance. There was an opportunity in the city to do that so I took the opportunity. It was a huge transition because the culture was different."

He said working in government one needed to have a network of people which was not easy as people hid information, and when one was an ombudsman they viewed you with suspicion.

"Some would ask me: 'What are you coming here to do? Why are you here?' The office was supported by the executive mayor and some saw me as Tau's police officer, which was a complete misunderstanding of my role," he said.

With experience in the legal sector working at financial services boards, and a spell at Old Mutual and BP, Gumede occupied a corner of the mayor's office and started his work to establish a fully-fledged office of the ombudsman. 

This meant creating an office, hiring skilled people and qualified and competent staff to help. He said he wanted to do the job because he was concerned that people complain about things and very few want to fix things.

Last year, apart from complaints from residents about service delivery, his office conducted an own-instance investigation into illegal mining activities within the Riverlea community and identified crime and environmental health concerns in the area. 

The office recommended corrective actions and tasked respective departments, including the police and the city' department of environmental health, to act accordingly. 

On Thursday he visited the area with his team to confirm if some decommissioned shafts were sealed and if there was law enforcement presence in the area. This was followed by a citizen information clinic at the Riverlea Recreation Centre to help communities understand the role of the ombudsman and how to lodge complaints.

"The impact of illegal mining at the very basic level, you can see lawlessness. The centre is not holding. There isn't effective policing and people do what they like," he said.   

This year, as the office marks 10 years since its establishment, it will amend the existing ombudsman by-law document to enable it to ensure all remedial actions are binding and offences and penalties relating to non-compliance by the respective departments and entities are fully enforced.

"We found it needed to be improved because it talked about the ombudsman making recommendations and not binding decisions.

"We wanted that to be changed from making recommendations to making binding findings, binding on the entities and the departments of the city of Johannesburg. If they are binding it means if you do implement not them there will be consequences."

Gumede said  every three months his office submits reports about its investigations to the council.  

The ombudsman is an office of the last resort. You can't come straight to the ombudsman. You have to follow the process because there are people who are employed to help you in the city
City of Johannesburg ombudsman advocate Siduduzo Gumede 

Residents within Johannesburg should first lodge their complaint with the City of Johannesburg, and allow a  time to resolve the complaint.

If the complaint is not resolved, residents can escalate it to the office of the ombudsman. 

"The ombudsman is an office of the last resort . You can't come straight to the ombudsman. You have to follow the process because there are people who are employed to help you in the city. Go to them first. If they are not helping you and you are frustrated you can then escalate to the office of the ombudsman.  

"It doesn't cost money to use the services of the ombudsman," he said.

Gumede said his office was investigating retirement villages in the city. He said the investigation started last year to scrutinise conditions at the villages.  

"The city owns about 47 retirement villages. The investigation is not completed. Only parts are completed. When it is complete we will take it to the council and tell them what we see. In some villages there is no security, people are vulnerable and there are no controls. You will find children in the retirement villages."

He said old infrastructure within the city was of concern with some continuously experiencing water challenges. 

"In areas like Randburg, Sandton, Morningside and Bryanston there old water infrastructure. There are frequent water bursts because infrastructure is old and needs to be replaced.

"They still use old asbestos pipes. You need to replace that and the city needs to have a budget for that. The equipment is not cheap to replace," he said.


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