Swiss delegation takes the Joburg development tour

JDA CEO Thanduxolo Mendrew briefs the Swiss delegationJDA Chief Executive Officer Thanduxolo Mendrew, accompanied by the City's director of economic development, Lucky Nhlangothi, briefs the Swiss delegation from the 50th floor of the Carlton Centre. State Secretary Marie-Gabrielle Ineichen-Fleisch stands in the foreground left. (Photo: Rudo Mungoshi)

The Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA) recently gave a Swiss fact-finding mission, led by the State Secretary and head of Switzerland's international cooperation agency, a taste of Joburg's developmental cutting edge.

JDA CEO Thanduxolo Mendrew meets Swiss State Secretary Marie-Gabrielle Ineichen-FleischJDA Chief Executive Officer Thanduxolo Mendrew meets Swiss State Secretary Marie-Gabrielle Ineichen-Fleisch (right) and other members of her delegation at the JDA's offices in Newtown. (Photo: Rudo Mungoshi)The Swiss delegation, led by State Secretary Marie-Gabrielle Ineichen-Fleisch and accompanied by Ambassador Helene Budliger Artieda, capped off their 4-day stop in South Africa on Thursday, 22 September with a tour of some of the JDA's latest projects to develop and transform the city.

Ineichen-Fleisch heads up the agency for Swiss Economic Cooperation and Development (SECO), which has been helping to fund South Africa's national Cities Support Programme and has a four-year extension of this funding, worth about R1-billion, currently awaiting approval.

Thursday's tour, which was led by JDA Chief Executive Officer Thanduxolo Mendrew, aimed to give the Swiss delegation a sense of the practical, on-the-ground dynamics of project implementation in the city.

'Restoring the inner city's glow'

The morning's outing was preceded by an introductory briefing at the JDA's offices in Newtown, and followed by roundtable discussions at Vilakazi Street in Soweto.

Outlining the JDA's work, Chief Executive Mendrew listed some of the agency's iconic projects to "restore the glow of the inner city", including Constitution Hill, the Nelson Mandela Bridge, the Ellis Park precinct and the infrastructure for the City's bus rapid transit (BRT) network.

From the 50th floor of the CarltonLooking south-west towards City Deep from the 50th floor of the Carlton. (Photo: Rudo Mungoshi)

"Many of these projects sought to bring confidence back to the inner city of Johannesburg, which had declined due to serious issues around crime and grime and the resulting exodus of corporates to Sandton," Mendrew explained.

The JDA's current focus, he said, included developments aimed at strategic densification and the linking of Joburg's central and northern suburbs via Alexandra and Sandton. "The JDA has been given the mandate to regenerate the area of Alexandra," he added.

High inequality 'driven by inherited urban spatial forms'

David Savage of the National Treasury's Cities Support Programme told the Swiss delegation that urbanisation was putting pressure on the country's major centres, where rates of economic growth were affected by inherited structural constraints.

"There are high levels of inequality being driven by fragmented, inefficient and inequitable urban spatial forms created by the apartheid regime."

However, Savage said, all the metros had recently made adequate progress with urban network planning and the strengthening of their infrastructure delivery management to support spatial transformation.

Taking a walkabout in HillbrowEkhaya Neighbourhood co-ordinator Bafikile Mkhize takes the group for a walkabout in Hillbrow. (Photo: Rudo Mungoshi)

"The focus now is on supporting cities to ensure the availability of affordable accommodation at scale for residents within more inclusionary, integrated and efficient human settlements," Savage concluded.

Eagle's eye view of SA's biggest inland import/export hub

The Swiss delegation then embarked on their tour, starting at nearby Metro Park, the award-winning recreational park and outdoor gym that was opened by the JDA and Johannesburg City Parks in September 2014.

Situated adjacent the Mandela Bridge, in the midst of an inner city commercial and residential hub, Metro Park provides a welcoming, family-friendly outdoor space for local residents and workers to unwind, play, socialise and exercise.

The tour group then proceeded to the 50th floor of the Carlton Centre, where they enjoyed an eagle's eye view of the City Deep Precinct, home to the City's largest fresh produce market, as well as customs port of entry into the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

The City's director of economic development, Lucky Nhlangothi, explained the precinct's role as import/export node, and how this tied in with the commercialisation strategy adopted by the City to enhance economic development in the area.

Visiting a Hillbrow food gardenThe delegates visit a food garden set up by residents of one the JHC's social housing units. (Photo: Rudo Mungoshi)

"It is located near the railway and key highways and OR Tambo International, making it very competitive," Nhlangothi said.

About eighty percent of incoming container volumes from the country's major marine ports are consolidated in Gauteng province, and City Deep remains central to the handling of this cargo.

"The City inland port was declared as one of the priority economic zones by national government, and R2-billion is required to turn it into the proper inland port of the future," said Nhlangothi.

The City, supported by Treasury's Cities Support Programme, is currently conducting an economic study, which will feed into a comprehensive plan for City Deep.

At the same time, the City, the provincial government and private sector partners are exploring initiatives to optimise public transport, offer affordable, well located accommodation, and expand job opportunities for the residents of Joburg and its neighbouring metros.

From Hillbrow to Soweto

From the Carlton Centre, the group headed to the Ekhaya precinct, a neighbourhood development programme that was started in 2004 in a rundown part of one of Joburg's most densely populated suburbs, Hillbrow.

They were met by Ekhaya Neighbourhood co-ordinator Bafikile Mkhize, who told the group about the difference the Johannesburg Housing Company (JHC), an initiative of the eKhaya Neighbourhood Improvement Programme, had made to the local environment.

Over the last decade the JHC and Ekhaya, with help from the JDA, had turned the area, once a highly dingy and dangerous place with a lot of criminal activity, into a safe and liveable neighbourhood,

More and more buildings had been freshly renovated, streets and lanes cleaned up, and outdoor recreation spaces reclaimed or newly developed. Neighbourhood safety patrols had been established and cleaning services introduced, and a partnership established to develop the local park.

"It will work as a tool in building social cohesion for communities that live in the area," Mkhize explained, before taking the delegation to look at the food garden set up by residents in one of JHC's social housing units.

The last stop-over was at Vuyo Restaurant in Vilakazi Street, Soweto, where the Swiss delegation held round-table discussions with City officials and representatives of National Treasury, the World Bank, SA Cities and the SA Local Government Association.

Ineichen-Fleisch concluded the discussions by saying that Switzerland's goal was a sustainable partnership with South Africa, and encouraged the country's eight metros to cooperate rather than compete with each other.

"I am happy that I spent these four days in South Africa, but certainly this is not the last time," she said.