Township renewal project extended

11 April 2008

The time-frame for the Alexandra Renewal Project (ARP), a programme to develop one of Johannesburg’s oldest townships, has been extended to 2010.

The project, launched by President Thabo Mbeki in February 2001, was to be implemented over a period of seven years. The estimated budget for the ARP at that time was R1.3-billion, an amount that was projected to be provided by the City of Johannesburg, Gauteng province and the private sector.

However, because of “huge demand for adequate shelter and prolonged land acquisition processes”, the project has been extended for another two years, according to Nomvula Mokonyane, the province’s housing MEC who was speaking at the ARP’s political steering committee meeting attended by the City of Johannesburg executive mayor Amos Masondo in Alexandra on Wednesday, 9 April.

The purpose of the steering committee is to exercise political oversight and decision-making in the implementation of the project.

At the meeting, Mokonyane and Masondo said the mandate of the ARP involves dealing with historical urban decay and deprivation in terms of infrastructure as well as human development in the township.

‘Black spot’

Established in 1912, Alexandra covers an area of over 800 hectares, including Old Alexandra Proper, the East Bank, the Far East Bank, Marlboro industrial area, Wynberg, Kew and Marlboro Gardens.

Since its inception, Alexandra has had a long and chequered history. In 1948, under apartheid, the township became a “black spot” and residents were threatened with complete removal. Freehold title was abolished and some families were removed, leaving the majority as tenants of the government.

During the 1980s, Alexandra was characterised by both conflict and development. There were long school boycotts and clashes with the apartheid government, but the period also saw Alex roads being tarred for the first time, new houses built and nearly 50 new blocks of flats.

Rapid urbanisation

Originally, the infrastructure in Alexandra was designed for a population of about 70 000 people but due to a population boom as people from within South Africa and neighbouring countries came to the area seeking employment opportunities, the township is now home to an estimated 350 000 to 400 000 people living in very crowded conditions.

After Mbeki’s announcement in 2001, the first phase of the project involved moving 11 000 residents from the banks of the Juskei River, where they were in danger of flooding every year. The displaced residents were moved to Braamfischerville in Soweto and Diepsloot, north of Randburg.

On 3 and 4 December 2004, a summit was held in the township to report back on and review the achievements of the ARP. The summit recorded that some progress had been made accommodating Alex’s homeless people. Approximately 1 200 houses had been built since 2001 in Extension 8 and the Reconstruction Area, with more housing construction in Marlboro Gardens, Westlake and Frankenwald projects yielding 5 300 rental housing units.

The project also recorded success in the construction and upgrading of road infrastructure in Alex.

‘One huge construction site’

In 2006 with about 16 months before the seven-year period announced by Mbeki elapsed, the incumbent ARP director, Julian Baskin, noted that the project will need “a lifetime” to complete. He said the initial costs of the project were not feasible and the total costs of providing RDP houses to 22 000 families in need of accommodation in Alexandra amounted to well over R1.9-billion. And this did not include provision of roads, water, sanitation, schools, clinics, magistrates offices and police stations.

Today, Alexandra is “one huge construction site”, as Baskin put it, with 27 active projects underway. Work to refurbish Alex’s old M1 and M2 hostels is almost complete and several schools have been built, including Ekukhanyisweni Primary School. A business centre to stimulate Alex’s economy has been established and new shopping malls are sprouting up including the R80-million Alex Plaza

.

The meeting acknowledged the progress that the ARP has registered on the ground and the many projects that are at an advanced stage. Mokonyane and Masondo hailed the ARP as a success story, given the inroads it has made in improving the local community’s quality of life.

On the issue of safety and security in the township, the meeting came up with mechanisms to tackle crime. A resolution was made to build a police station in the Far East Bank. It was also agreed that ward councillors should play a critical role in running community awareness programmes to guard against vandalism of public facilities.

In addition, the meeting agreed that a Local Economic Development Summit would be convened in the near future to develop strategies to “unearth the economic potential” of Alexandra.

Source: City of Johannesburg