NKRA Communique – October 2020

Hi everyone

The jacarandas are blooming already, which tells us that the year-end is approaching. It has been a very strange year so far. The NKRA has not held a physical meeting since the pandemic lockdown began, but the coronavirus is still dangerously active, so it might be unnecessarily reckless to start having physical meetings again just yet. It is certainly a very bad idea to have a Community Day in the Park this year. However suppliers do seem to be operating again for the most part, so we should perhaps attempt to fit in a few more projects before year end. We spent R24,600 in December on fixing pavements, but our projects this year so far have been limited to cleaning up the pavement in 7th Street in February (R3705), and the purchasing of additional pavement dustbins in June (R4000). We therefore do have funds available for further projects.

There is no point in complaining about how we pay municipal rates and get nothing back for our money. Municipal rates is a wealth tax, not a service charge. Much of the money is used to pay salaries to the lucky people who get the jobs, and the rest of the money is utilised all around the city with no regard to where the money comes from. The NKRA has always understood this. Although we don’t let the Council off the hook, we understand that we also need to make extra efforts of our own to uplift and maintain our quality of life and our property values.

At its most basic, this means that residents who notice service-delivery issues should call the municipal help-desk and report all these problems (011 375 5555). The municipal departments monitor the help-desk logs, so please call the help-desk and log the issues – over and over again. It’s a major schlepp, but there is no short-cut. South Africans love to complain, but it is more likely to bear fruit if we complain to the correct people. Complaining to the ward councillor is a good way to let off steam, but the councillors cannot demand services, or give instructions to the operational departments concerned, they can only request services and/or information. In order to actually make a difference, we as residents need to call the relevant municipal department, log each of our complaints, and get a reference number. The more people who log a concern, the better are the chances of that concern being addressed. You can then forward your reference number to the ward councillor for follow-up.

Charles and I did a tour of the area last Friday, together with the ward councillor and the Urban Inspector, and we noted many potholes, water leaks, missing manhole covers, uncollected rubbish and various other issues. Hopefully these will be addressed soon, but we have had similar promises before.

The ward councillor provides the urban inspector with lists of issues in the area on an on-going basis. Please would you all contribute to maintaining an up-to-date list of issues, by sending a proper description thereof, together with the precise location of each issue and the reference number, to the ward councillor (Eleanor Huggett) at eleanorhuggett@gmail.com. It is necessary to be specific here please – we cannot just say “the water is hopeless” or “Killarney looks scruffy”. Photos also help a lot.

The water cuts in particular have indeed gone beyond ridiculous. The pipes keep bursting because the water infrastructure in the older suburbs has been in the ground for 100 years or more, and galvanised steel pipes always rust eventually. It is actually amazing that these pipes have lasted as long as they have. The municipality obviously cannot dig up all the pipes every few years to repaint them inside and out, so they are inevitably going to rust progressively. They also cannot dig up and replace every old and rusted pipe and valve, all at once. This would cost far more than our municipal rates can pay for, and the Council lacks the capacity and resources to do this in any reasonable time-frame. Therefore they are limited to replacing short stretches of rusted pipe-line as and when their capacity and funding permits. This a slow process, but Saxonwold and Forest Town and Houghton have already had some main pipes replaced, and this has apparently reduced the frequency of burst-pipe repairs. However even when they replace old pipes in Killarney, they won’t replace everything at once – we have seen that the Council works on the basis of spreading their scarce resources thinly across all areas, even though this means that problems are seldom addressed completely the first time.

We also have the problem that Joburg’s handful of municipal reservoirs feed a huge inter-connected pipe network which stretches across many suburbs, so repairing a leak in one place also forces the shut-down of all the other pipes across the area which are being supplied by that particular section of the network. Killarney is served by one of the older pipe networks, so pipe bursts are common. Hopefully the remaining old pipes won’t all fail at once.

Meanwhile Joburg Water will need to continue to patch the rusted pipes each time they burst, with a painful water cut every time. The best we can reasonably demand is that they fix a burst pipe promptly when it breaks, that they fix it properly, and that they don’t crack the rusted old pipes any further in the process. After a recent repair they “forgot” to open the valves again when they were finished, and many buildings were consequently left without water for far longer than was necessary. This incompetent disregard for us as rate-payers infuriates us all, especially since there is not even a pretence at accountability and consequences.

This water outage problem is going to continue for years to come, and since it affects all the older suburbs of Johannesburg to some extent, complaining is unlikely to help much – I’m sure that millions of people are complaining continually. My friends and relatives in other areas all have continual water cuts as well. Some of us have small water tanks at home, we fill them when the water is actually running, and we use that water to tide us over on the many occasions when the municipal water is off. This might not be equally practical in every flat in Killarney, as every flat has different amounts of available space, but every home can at least store a dozen 2-liter bottles of water under each bed. If your complex has a swimming pool, that chlorinated water can also be used for washing, or flushing the toilet.

When the water pipes do get repaired, they often leave major holes in our roads. These cannot be resurfaced immediately, as the soil needs to be compacted first – otherwise the area will subside in the following months, and leave a serious (and potentially dangerous) depression in the tar. However the compacting takes time, during which the hole gets steadily deeper – particularly if rain washes out some of the soil as well. While we wait for the government to take action, we can help ourselves here by adding stones and gravel to the holes, to make them a bit safer and also to speed up the compaction. Please do not put concrete or tar in the holes – if the hole is not repaired correctly, this will just make the situation worse in the long run. Possible Action Step: If anybody has spare gravel, building stone, soil or fine rubble, please would you add it to one of the various dangerous holes in our roads?

In some places the repair has involved a valve, which then requires a man-hole to be built in the road. In 3rd Street the JRA did finally resurface their various repairs, but they have not yet built proper man-holes. The remaining holes in the road are themselves quite dangerous.

There is a different problem at the intersection of 7th Street and 4th Avenue – i.e. the traffic circle. Long ago a car missed the turn and hit the dustbin on the pavement, shattering it, and then bounced off the fence. The fence is still leaning over, and the remains of the dustbin are still there too. These large chunks of rubble are very heavy, and will need some special effort and equipment to remove it. The municipality has thus far failed to do anything about it. It creates an eyesore, it hinders pedestrians, and it encourages people to dump more rubble and litter on that corner. Possible Action Step: If the government does not take action soon, the NKRA could hire an appropriate service provider to do the required repairs and clean-up. Would any of the NKRA members object to us undertaking such a project with members’ money?

At that same corner, the motorway embankment is filthy with litter, accumulated over time from the many homeless people who have camped on that embankment. It needs a serious effort to clean it up properly. Possible Action Step: If the government does not take action soon, the NKRA could hire an appropriate service provider to properly clean this embankment. Would any of the NKRA members object to us undertaking such a project with members’ money?

There is a need to manage the general grubbiness of the streets and pavements. We also need to reverse the “broken window syndrome” – where a littered and unloved pavement attracts even more litter and dumping. PikiTup does sweep our streets and pavements from time to time, but not often enough to manage the amount of litter. A number of Killarney buildings already clean the pavements and streets and bins around their own buildings, which is of huge value to the entire area. We thank those buildings for this valuable contribution. The problem is the buildings who do nothing, and the “orphan” areas which are not near any particular building. For example the traffic islands in 4th Ave outside the park are serviced a few times every year by Nolicent, the gardener in the park. The pavements in 7th Street along the motorway have been addressed by the buildings of the area, and sometimes by NKRA projects as well. Please help us in identifying the remaining “problem zones”, so that we can set up specific projects to manage each of them.

We can retain a professional cleaning service to support the suburb. Such a service has the benefit of being supervised and supported by the structures of an external company, but this is expensive. Many security companies also have cleaning divisions, which means that their cleaners can also act as information-gatherers for the security division while they are out on the street doing their cleaning work. This might be especially useful at the taxi rank, where the alcohol and drug sellers are operating, and despite the cost it might be worthwhile for the NKRA to undertake such an “undercover” initiative for a few months to gather some extra information – particularly over the holiday season. The cost of any cleaning service obviously depends on how many people you hire, and for how many days, but we know it will probably cost about R7,000 per cleaner per month. Without sponsorship the NKRA will not be able to fund such an initiative for an extended period. Possible Action Step: The NKRA could hire one of our security companies to properly clean the streets and pavements for a few months, and simultaneously gather information on criminal activities at the same time. Would any of the NKRA members object to us undertaking such a project with members’ money?

On the other hand, we can also look at having a system where the employees of Killarney buildings are hired as private individuals in their spare time to help with cleaning specific problem areas. They will then need to be supported with equipment, and properly supervised, but it would probably be much cheaper than using a company. Having the project staffed and supervised by nearby buildings with a personal interest in the success of the project, would obviously make the work operationally easier as well as more “conscientious”. Possible Action Step: A few buildings nearby to each problem site could work together, providing some of their own employees with brooms and bags etc, and supervising them to keep those problem areas permanently clean.

This could perhaps also extend to a building or buildings adopting a “sad” pavement, cleaning it and planting some shrubs or seeds to brighten it up. For example Chartwell is doing a wonderful job on the eastern dead-end of 4th Street – many thanks to Chartwell for that!

Before the lockdown we had agreed to undertake another project of repairing unsafe pavements early in 2020. Perhaps we could resume that project now. The cost would depend on how many pavements need repairs, and how bad the damage might be in each case. The extent of the need would have to be researched, but that should not take too long, if everyone helps in reporting unsafe pavements. Possible Action Step: If the government does not take action soon, the NKRA could once again hire an appropriate service provider to repair unsafe pavements. Would any of the NKRA members object to us undertaking such a project with members’ money?

Security is always an area of concern. People are being mugged on our pavements, often by robbers who escape in Uber-type Toyota Corolla cars. Please be very careful about holding cell-phones or other valuables in your hands while standing or walking on pavements. Security guards on the street will deter the robbers if they are nearby at the time, and our guards have actually caught some muggers on occasion. However some of these guards patrol a substantial area, and the robbers simply time their attacks for when the security guard is distant enough to allow them to escape safely. These muggings literally take just seconds.

We are well aware of the increasing problem with the street drinkers in 1st Street. This receives a lot of our attention, and the ward councillor and the CPF are also kept well informed. What we really need here is for the authorities to simply do their jobs and enforce the laws. However that has not been happening properly for a number of years. A recent ray of hope comes from the provincial Department of Community Safety, who have deployed a mobile “kiosk” to the corner of 1st Street and Killarney Avenue, where the drug selling has been most severe. They are backed up by the SAPS. They are not present all day or every day, but certainly there are fewer hawkers at that corner when they are present, so they clearly are providing some extra deterrence. Thank you to the CPF for helping to make that happen.

We originally thought that the problem was related to the taxis, but now it seems that the drinkers have split away from the taxis and have moved to the corner of 2nd Avenue. They might of course move even further in the future. We do already have a similar problem at the other end of 1st Street and in the middle of 1st Street, and we do have sporadic problems in 2nd Street and in 3rd Street as well.

People are legally allowed to gather on pavements, and “noise” is a subjective judgement. However drinking alcohol is illegal on a pavement, and is a serious offence – if it can be proved. The problem is that the drinkers see the police vehicles approaching, and then simply pack away the alcohol before the police reach them. Even if the police search them and find alcohol in a bag or packet or cooler-box, it is not illegal to carry alcohol around. The intervention then becomes a waste of time, and the drinking resumes as soon as the police are out of sight. This leads to the SAPS and JMPD being disinclined to intervene at all.

Our current strategy is therefore to implement a combination of street patrols, backed by high-definition security cameras. The street patrols try to create a deterrent, as well as use “soft persuasion” to encourage at least some of the people to behave better. They will obviously intervene with force if a resident is in danger or a serious crime is being committed, but otherwise they have no actual authority on a public road. We have investigated the option of a security guard making a “citizen’s arrest”, but it seems that a citizen’s arrest is only allowed for a Schedule One offence, and drinking on a public road doesn’t qualify as such. The street patrols have added a lot of value thus far, but even more needs to be done. Many thanks to all the buildings and households who are contributing to the various security guards and patrols all around the area.

The security cameras need to be capable of capturing the facial features of the drinkers in enough clarity to permit identification in court, as well as to identify the labels on their bottles so as to “prove” that alcohol is being consumed. We have found that the authorities react faster and more often to our calls if we are able to show them video footage which proves that actual crimes are being committed. It would also help enormously if we could record where they stash the drugs they sell, as they do not keep these on their person all the time. These cameras are obviously also useful against other crimes too, such as muggings and vehicle thefts etc.

In order to get proper value, we need to have real-time monitoring of the cameras, and the ability to extract and email video clips at short notice. We therefore installed a high-spec security camera a few years ago in 1st Street on the Daventry Court building, and the security company at Daventry Court operates and monitors the system. This camera has added a lot of value in dealing with the Lhenveolan / Hyde Court part of the 1st Street problem.

Unfortunately we do not yet have good cameras at the taxi rank end of 1st Street – partly because the drinkers have changed locations a few times, and partly because of the costs and difficulties of implementing the necessary real-time monitoring processes. We are making efforts to improve the camera coverage in the “taxi” vicinity as well, inter alia by co-ordinating with the various buildings who have existing perimeter security cameras along those affected roads. Hopefully this will bear fruit soon. If this is not possible with the existing camera equipment, it may add value to the entire suburb if the NKRA pays for additional cameras to be added to the existing camera systems of buildings in affected areas, to provide us with video footage of appropriate clarity.

In July we once again approached CAP Security for an updated quote. Their fee is still more than R100,000 per month, the actual cost depends on which services you request, and while they promise to do great things, they do not guarantee success. In their own words “Unfortunately in the current environment there is no easy answer. I will come back to you as soon as we have something viable”. We are still waiting.

Citizens are now able to report any corruption, poor service, or any other misconduct by ANY law enforcement officer (SAPS or JMPD), to IPID – the Independent Police Investigative Directorate. Their toll-free number is 0800 111 696.

Please be aware of scammers who pose as City Power officials. They have official-looking ID cards and clothing. They are aggressive and forceful, threatening to have people arrested if you deny them entry. If such people visit you, and you are not confident of their intentions, call your armed response service to back you up.

Many buildings in Johannesburg have been hit with massive back-charges for sewerage costs. Please see the legal explanation in the link at https://www.schindlers.co.za/2020/cojs-change-of-sewer-tariffs/. A number of Joburg buildings are therefore preparing a joint legal challenge. If your building has been affected, and you wish to participate in this legal challenge, you can contact Chantelle Gladwin-Wood of Schindlers Attorneys, at gladwin-wood@schindlers.co.za.

Our Killarney-Riviera “chapter” of the SA Harvest food security project is adding huge value. They collect all types of foods, and deliver them to established feeding projects around Johannesburg. They only collect once a month, so please don’t put milk or perishables in the boxes. There are currently collection points at Chartwell; Chelston Hall; Cranwell Hall; Daventry Court; Earl’s Court; Glenhof Gardens; Hatherley Hall; Interlaken; Mediterranean; Monviso; Knightsbridge; Seven Oaks and Sloane Square. If you wish to establish a collection point in your building, please contact Suzie on 082 336 3230. Thank you to all the people who have donated so generously already.

We are still hoping to be able to hold a safe and responsible “live” meeting in November. However that decision will be made only in November, and will depend on the inputs from the members. Meanwhile we will continue to communicate using technology, and we will undertake all the projects which the members are willing to authorise. Please would our member buildings give feedback on the various projects suggested above? We also welcome all inputs and suggestions from all residents and property owners.