A ground-breaking agreement between Alexandra property owners and the government has broken a 10-year impasse, paving the way for the resumption of a massive programme to redevelop and revitalize the city’s oldest township.

Artist’s impression of the new pedestrian-cycling bridge being built over the M1Artist’s impression of the new pedestrian-cycling bridge being built over the M1 highway as part of a 5-kilometre ‘Great Walk’ between Alexandra and Sandton. The redevelopment of Alex will feed strongly into this and other JDA projects currently under way in the township.The Alexandra Renewal Project, adopted by all three tiers of government in 2001, stalled in 2005 when a group of property owners obtained a court interdict stopping any infrastructure development from taking place in the old section of the township.

At the heart of the dispute are the property owners’ demands for compensation for land from which their families were forcibly removed under apartheid.

The land dispute came to the fore at a heated two-day summit that ended in Irene outside Pretoria on Wednesday, 9 September with the key stakeholders reaching an agreement to clear the obstacles standing in the way of the rejuvenation of Alexandra.

The Gauteng Department of Human Settlements said in a statement that the out-of-court settlement was expected to result in the withdrawal of the interdict by the Alex property owners.

“The agreement, described as ‘historic and ground breaking’, will for the first time enable both the Provincial Government and City of Johannesburg, working in partnership with community stakeholders, to start initiating massive development plans to finally end slum-conditions and turn around the old section of the township,” the department said.

“Government has over the years spent millions of rands to build infrastructure, roads, social facilities and created over 14 000 housing opportunities outside the periphery of the old sections of the township,” said Gauteng Department of Human Settlements MEC Jacob Mamabolo.

The soon-to-be completed Alexandra Heritage CentreThe soon-to-be completed Alexandra Heritage Centre, another JDA project, will feed off the energy of Alexandra, with facilities fully and freely available to the community.Mamabolo was accompanied at the summit by Human Settlements MMC Dan Bovu and Development Planning MMC Roslynn Greeff from the City of Johannesburg.

The City of Joburg website quoted MMC Greeff as saying that, while it had taken a long time to reach an agreement, “it’s a real ground-breaking agreement”.

The MEC also announced that the provincial government had appointed a team of conveyancers to assist in determining the value of the more than 2 000 properties affected by the land dispute.

The resolution of the dispute had now moved a decisive step closer, Mamabolo said. Once the land ownership issue had been sorted out, beneficiaries would be given the options of monetary compensation, the provision of alternative stands, or an opportunity for to partner with the government by making their land available for the development of Alexandra.

The City of Joburg website quoted Mamabolo as saying: “The stalemate is lifted and we can now start with our work to improve Alex. Everybody has agreed to give the process a chance, and we will have to work hard,” he added, stressing the importance of restoring trust among all stakeholders.

The government would not pressurise the property owners into revoking the interdict, he said, but once this was lifted there would be “a massive development of Alex”.

JDA project manager Siyabonga GenuJDA project manager Siyabonga Genu gives local SMMEs an overview of current and future Rea Vaya projects in Alexandra during a special workshop conducted in the township in May.The Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA) is set to play a key role in this development.

JDA chief executive Thanduxolo Mendrew was quoted by newspapers, in reports on the first day of the summit, as saying that the City was “identifying some of the projects that were not completed, over and above the housing projects. We are obtaining funding so we can complete them.

“One example is the Alexandra Heritage Centre that has been standing for some time,” Mendrew said. “By October, that project will have been completed.”

The redevelopment of Alexandra, once it gets under way in earnest, will also feed strongly into other projects the JDA is currently working on, both in and around Alexandra.

These include the expansion of the Rea Vaya bus rapid transit (BRT) system from central Joburg to Alexandra, and from Alex, via a new BRT bridge being built across the M1 highway, to the Sandton central business district.

In tandem with this, the JDA is overseeing the construction of the Great Walk, a dedicated pedestrian and cycling pathway between Alexandra and Sandton, including a pedestrian-cycling bridge with a striking architectural design across the M1, to cater for the 10 000 or more people who walk or cycle the five kilometres between Alexandra and Sandton daily.

As part of this, the JDA is currently engaged in a major public environment upgrade programme in Alexandra. This involves the construction 30 kilometres of new sidewalks, along with road upgrades, soft and hard landscaping, and improved road signage and street lighting.

It will also fall to the JDA, once the BRT network expansion is up and running, to oversee construction of a major public transport interchange in Alex, where Rea Vaya will connect seamlessly with Metrobuses and minibus taxis.

Another JDA project, the construction of the R22.5-million River Park Clinic, is on track for completion within schedule in early 2016.

The state-of-the-art facility is one of six healthcare centres being built or renovated to address the increasing demand for primary healthcare services in Alex. It will provide specialized antenatal care as well as counselling and treatment to TB patients, easing the pressure on the existing primary healthcare clinics in the township.