OPINION: Herman Mashaba, the good, the bad and the ugly


As a long-standing inner-city resident, I’ve been thinking long and hard about Herman Mashaba’s legacy as mayor.

Nobody - least of all himself - expected him to don the mayoral chains after the 2016 local government elections. How should he be remembered for his 40 months in charge?

The easy assessment is to label him as nothing but a xenophobe. As expected, when Mashaba started saying Joburg was a “lawless society” overrun by “illegal immigrants”, foreign nationals began feeling the pinch. Many confided in me and other South Africans that they were being blamed for everything wrong with the city and the country.

But did Mashaba really hate immigrants, or was he just being a clever politician?

For all his claims that he was frustrated by politics, he certainly took to the hypocrisy that higher office so often spawns. Once vehemently opposed to race-based policy, he leaves office adamant that the colour of your skin is essential to sustainable social justice.

Mashaba says his comments on migrancy are nothing but an attempt to bring law and order to the city of gold, and this was backed up by actions.

He was the first mayor on the beat with his metropolitan police force after the 2016 local government elections.

Read: Zille: ‘Mashaba has always been to the right of me’

While Mashaba was in office, the Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) was not the stereotype I’d been used to growing up in Joburg. No more suggestions of a tjo-tjo to avoid a parking ticket, or a cooldrink for speeding. Perhaps it was the extra officers Mashaba added to the JMPD, or his singular focus that politics should not be involved in policing that effected the change.

He must also be credited for a zero-tolerance approach to corruption, appointing former Gauteng Hawks head Shadrack Sibiya to form a forensic investigations division that uncovered billions in graft and malfeasance during the tenure of former Joburg mayor Parks Tau, allegations the ANC has always denied.

His infrastructure record also speaks for itself. The M2 highway underwent critical repairs to prevent a collapse. The project was delivered on time, and a critical public-private partnership between Absa and the JMPD kept inner-city streets flowing and relatively safe with the added traffic.

But the jury is still out on Mashaba’s flagship effort, the Inner City Rejuvenation Programme, to bring investment back to the city.

Billions of rands in property was offered up to the private sector for development in and around the city centre. Some of it resulted in fantastic outcomes, with plans for affordable housing replacing abandoned and hijacked buildings.

But while many buildings were re-purposed, others became more derelict and run down.

The building at the corner of Lily Avenue and Olivia Road in Hillbrow is one example. It remained empty and stripped for the first 10 years that I stayed in the city, a victim of the 90s inner-city somersault as urbanisation and poverty collided.

But in the past six months, sheets have been hung where window frames were once found, and the 11-storey building has become a hive of poverty-induced crime, violence and depravity.

That’s why I am looking forward to the release of his book, Accidental Mayor, promised to be released in early 2020.

Always the source of a sensational soundbyte, Mashaba’s legacy in his on words hasn’t been articulated yet. Neither has the full effect of his reign in the city of gold been fully appreciated. For the good or the bad.

Nickolaus Bauer is an award-winning freelance journalist reporting for 702, Deutschewelle, and others. His passion lies in social entrepreneurship after co-founding Dlala Nje in 2012 - a social enterprise supporting the development of children from Hillbrow, Berea and Yeoville in Johannesburg. Follow him on Twitter: @NickolausBauer