THE Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA) turns 10 this year, and looks set to charge ahead into the next 10 years with the passion and commitment it has demonstrated to date.
Established in 2001, the agency initially focused on the inner city but very soon broadened its mandate to other areas like Soweto and Orange Farm in the south, and Diepsloot in the north.
Former chief executives Graeme Reid and Lael Bethlehem, together with the present acting CEO, Thanduxolo Mendrew, have recorded their impressions on video of the birth of the JDA and the progress that has been made in transforming Joburg, particularly the inner city.
The chairman of the JDA board, Luthando Vutula, says: “Now for you to be able to assume the position of CEO of the JDA, you need to have the passion for development, and I think both Graeme, Lael, and I think recently, Thanduxolo, has also indicated he’s got that passion.”
But there’s more to the JDA’s success than passion and commitment. “The other thing about the JDA is that we are committed to delivery, and all these people that I’ve mentioned, have been extremely committed,” continues Vutula. “I sometimes wonder why the JDA is never given to possibly develop and even manage all the projects of the city because we have the passion, we have the commitment and we also have the track record.”
From the beginning, the agency was set up with measurable indicators of its success. “We also had our own mechanisms in tracking our own work, how many jobs were we creating, how many small businesses had benefited from contracts, and then internal indicators around the climate of the JDA itself, and in particular to what extent did people feel they were constantly learning about these processes and being able to be quite courageous in how they would define the intervention,” says Reid, the first CEO.
At the June Halala Joburg Awards ceremony, the mayoral committee member for development planning and urban management, Ruby Mathang, said: “The primary objective for the JDA initially was to promote area regeneration and growth through the development and promotion of efficient business environments by unlocking the economic potential of defined geographical areas.”
Reid says: “Quite important for the JDA and its success going forward was that we were able to take projects that already existed into a new agency and sustain those projects and build an organisation, which was obviously a very exciting process but also, I think, very important for its success because we were able to hit the ground running.”
And it has been running ever since. It has been involved in more than 50 developments in these past 10 years, says Mathang. “These projects extend across all regions of Johannesburg and all aspects of city life – from the provision of buildings and transport infrastructure to the installation of parks and art works.”
Some of those projects include the iconic Nelson Mandela Bridge, the award-winning Constitutional Court buildings, the Coca-Cola Park sports precinct, the Newtown cultural precinct, taxi ranks across the city, and the Rea Vaya transport system. All these developments have changed the lives of residents, making it easier for them to get around Joburg, and enjoy what it has to offer.
Indeed, Joburg has been turned around, encouraging private investors to pump money into the inner city, transforming formerly derelict and unsafe buildings and areas into places where people live and work in comfort and security.
The vision has been far-reaching. “The JDA is about saying what’s the big picture in the city, what does the city need, what interventions can we make that the city is going to benefit from for 10, 20, 30 years,” says Bethlehem.
Funding for these interventions has come from a range of sources – the City’s coffers, the national government, provincial government grants through Blue IQ, and other public and private sector partners. These partnerships have been key to the JDA’s success over the past 10 years. Over this period, the JDA has managed investments of over R5,8-billion.
“Between 2001 and 2008, total private sector investment in key JDA development areas (measured by property transactions) totalled R7,5-billion, against total JDA investment of R393-million,” explains Mathang.
In the build-up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, the JDA was given the responsibility of beautifying the precinct around the FNB Stadium and Nasrec.
Says Bethlehem: “The World Cup was a sea change – you can talk about Johannesburg before and after the FIFA 2010 soccer World Cup. It gave us at the JDA a tremendous opportunity to rethink and re-imagine parts of the city that we would hardly be able to scratch the surface of without the World Cup.”
Football fans were transported to the stadiums in the sparkling new Rea Vaya buses. Stations, all with public artworks, continue to rise across the city in the ongoing project.
“The Rea Vaya has been absolutely central to what has happened in Johannesburg and not only in the JDA. The Rea Vaya was so clearly absolutely integral to the future development of Johannesburg,” she adds.
The re-imagining Bethlehem talks of has involved rejuvenating parks, paving, lighting, and putting many magnificent public artworks in place. Joburg has been transformed by art by some of the country’s most eminent artists – The Fire Walker by William Kentridge and the Eland by Clive van den Berg are just two that have given the city a softer face.
Bethlehem introduced the Halala Joburg Awards in 2007, recognising innovation and imagination in the city’s investors and caregivers.
“The Halala Awards were a very exciting thing to be involved in. We were trying to find a way to get the media and the community to notice that big changes were happening in the inner city of Johannesburg,” says Bethlehem.
“And it’s important also to create within the community of investors who are actually investing in the inner city a sense that the work is appreciated, that the city is their partner, that the city appreciates the difficulties they face and the work that they are doing.”
Mathang expressed his appreciation of the passion and commitment of the nominees and winners in June. “Not only do you restore historically significant buildings and find creative ways of reinventing spaces, you also introduce sustainable and environmentally sound building practices. Your belief in making this city work is what makes you our invaluable partners.”
He said the City was unwavering in its commitment to these partnerships, which were clearly a big part of the success of regenerating the inner city.
Mendrew adds: “When you engage with partners and build alliances across sectors, it’s really important to ensure that these investments and contributions to regeneration and development receive the awareness and recognition they deserve.”
The restored Chancellor House, formerly the legal offices of Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo, was unveiled in May this year, after many years of gross neglect.
It’s a project that is close to Mendrew’s heart. “One project [that] stands as testament to what partnerships, alliances and passion are really about, is Chancellor House,” he says.
He sees the building as symbolic of how the city has been transformed – both were previously derelict and wasted.
“Like Chancellor House, we are where we are at the start of our second decade because of the passion and commitment of those that have come before us. Leaders, team members and partners with our vision of all that Johannesburg can be.
“Working together with our professional contractors, employees and partners, we now take pride in our city from the inner city core to the outer edge. I thank you all for your support and commitment, and assure you that we will continue to make our city everything it should be.”