Luxury-loving politicians turn their cities into rubbish dumps
THE potholes in the city's streets have become a favourite joke among diplomats who compare conditions to other "hardship" postings such as Cairo and Kinshasa.
The drinking water is on occasion so bad that the very young, the very old and anybody taking medication are advised not to drink it.
Nearly half the city's police motorcycles are out of commission at any one time, either because of repairs or because officers are not licensed to ride them.
Almost half the members of the homicide squad have not closed a case in the past year.
Two years ago the refrigeration and airconditioning failed at the city morgue, leaving cockroaches to swarm over corpses and autopsy tables. One of the city's post offices has been overrun by rats.
Add to this delightful scenario the fact that cases of tuberculosis have increased by more than a third at a time when the disease is generally on the decline.
No, I'm not talking about Johannesburg but Washington DC. According to the March issue of Vanity Fair, the place is literally falling apart.
Christopher Hitchens, the author of the article, refers to a city that has contempt for its citizens and I make no apology when borrowing this word to describe Johannesburg's relationship with its ratepayers.
While we may be able to draw cold comfort from the fact that Johannesburg's demise is not a uniquely African phenomenon, as many of us imagine, the reason for our decline is identical to that of Washington.
It boils down to the fact that too many provincial politicians are more concerned with their social standing (what cars they drive and what pecuniary advantages they can squeeze from the system) than they are with serving the community that elected them.
For example, former North-West education, sport and recreation MEC Mamoekoena Gaoretelelwe managed to run up a bill of R500 000 taking an eight-person delegation to the Olympic Games in 1996.
She naturally took along her husband and a bodyguard and hired two executive cars to ferry her entourage around Atlanta.
The only happy outcome to the story is that North-West Premier Popo Molefe fired her last November.
In some of Johannesburg's northern suburbs, sewage has been seeping into the streets.
Admittedly, this is not just any old sewage. It has passed through the digestive systems of the rich and powerful, but once it has reached its final state it is of little consolation that it started life as fillet steak, Beluga caviar or crayfish thermidor.
Affluent effluent it may be, but you don't want it running down the streets.
In the suburb I live in, the pavement has now been dug up for over a month.
It is completely impossible to use many of Johannesburg's pavements these days which makes it necessary for pedestrians to leap over unmarked holes in the ground, circumvent piles of rubble, wade through pools of stagnant water and push past illegal hawkers.
It is an impossible obstacle course for the elderly and handicapped who presumably stay at home rather than risk a broken ankle.
When new pipes or telephone cables have eventually been laid, the crater is roughly covered with earth and awaits the attention of another municipal department whose task it is to retar the pavement without burying peoples' water meters.
It is clearly a skilled job and one that requires a tremendous amount of thought - if my observations in Parktown North are anything to go by.
Indeed, if the early Roman settlers in Britain had proceeded at the same snail's pace as our local municipal workers I calculate they would just about have reached Haywards Heath in Sussex.
This is how it works. Five men turn up in the morning with some hot tar and a compactor.
Three men sit on a wall and watch two men spread some tar in the deep groove that has been created by the most recent thunderstorm and press it down until it is hard.
Then the two men who have been tarring join the other three and now five men sit on a wall for an hour or so to watch the tar cool.
They are obviously planning strategy.
The whole process is repeated several times and by the end of the day they have managed to tar around three metres of pavement.
Which reminds me of the old maths problem. If it takes five men two years to tar a road 2km long and half a metre wide, when can I have my rates reduced?