By Anish Abraham
© City of Johannesburg website
It was the year in which the Johannesburg inner city revival really gathered pace: in 2005 local and provincial government and the private sector got involved in efforts to bring back the CBD's glory days.
The task was made a little easier when the national Treasury declared much of Joburg's inner city the country's largest Urban Development Zone (UDZ). This entitles building owners who refurbish their properties to a tax incentive.
By August, the City had already received applications by property owners for more than R1-billion worth of improvements. The national Treasury is currently considering extending the incentive to sectional titleholders which, if approved, should see further investment in the inner city.
Inner city living
Far from its earlier image as a grime and crime-infested concrete jungle, the CBD is turning into a place where people can live, work and play.
Following in the footsteps of the Johannesburg Housing Company and private developers like Urban Ocean, more building stock in the inner city is being turned into flats, from those designed for the common man to those catering for the upper echelons of society.
Their successes have piqued interest in inner city living among other property companies, and several more old office blocks are to be converted into residential flats.
And, it's not just old buildings that are being turned into residential stock. The Johannesburg Housing Company's Brickfields project in Newtown is the first residential unit built in the inner city in almost three decades.
During Brickfields official opening, President Thabo Mbeki commended the effort, a public-private partnership between Joburg, the provincial government and corporations in the city.
But the largest changes to the inner city by far will be the Gauteng provincial government precinct and the Gautrain Rapid Rail link.
For its Kopanong precinct, provincial authorities have proposed demolishing 10 inner city buildings to create a new public space adjacent to the existing Beyers Naudé Square. It also aims to consolidate its government departments in the remaining buildings around the new square.
Despite concern about demolishing the old buildings, the South African Heritage Resource Agency gave the green light to the project, estimated to cost R2,5-billion.
South Africa's first "mega-project" is expected to get under way in the early months of 2006, after the Cabinet gave approval for the R20-billion Gautrain on 8 December.
The train, which will link Johannesburg, Johannesburg International Airport and Tshwane, will start at Park Station, in the CBD. It will also include a feeder network consisting of buses and taxis.
City residents will not be short of entertainment either - Newtown has made great strides towards cementing its position as Jozi's cultural hub with its theatres, museums and flea markets. The Johannesburg Art Gallery is also moving to that part of town.
With its many clubs, live jazz bars and Mary Fitzgerald Square, it is fast becoming the place to be for hip and happening Joburgers.
Even the traditionally dilapidated Hillbrow seems to be on the up, a result of investments from property owners and through the City's Better Buildings Programme.
Once considered a haven for prostitutes and drug dealers, the old Europa Hotel has been renovated and converted into temporary housing for people who have been evicted from other rundown buildings in the inner city.
At the October launch, Executive Mayor Amos Masondo said the conversion was part of the City's Urban Renewal Programme, which seeks a sustainable increase in its rates base and to provide a well-managed, safe and attractive city.
Johannesburg's most visible landmark, the telecommunications tower in Hillbrow, was renamed the Telkom Joburg Tower and was given new fluorescent signage and lighting that now gives the skyline a bluish tinge.
Large parts of the inner city also made it on to South Africans' small screens for various reasons, with the SABC3 reality show, The Apprentice, the channel's newspaper drama, Hard Copy, and various strikes dominating the airwaves.
The Apprentice, hosted by politician-turned-businessman Tokyo Sexwale, was shot throughout parts of the CBD, while the contestants were based in the historic Corner House building, along Commissioner and Simmonds streets.
Hard Copy, about a fictional newspaper, is shot at the Rissik Street Post Office.
It was a case of the good, the bad and the ugly, though, as members of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) took to the city streets during a three-day, nationwide municipal strike, from 27 to 29 July.
There was chaos on the second day of the strike as police fired stun grenades and rubber bullets as the crowds threatened to get unruly when they reached the Metropolitan Centre in Braamfontein. They marched there from the city centre on all three days of the strike.
More than 70 protesters were arrested, and the City claimed the marches were illegal as Cosatu had not given notice of the strike seven days in advance. Most of those were arrested in accordance with the Gatherings Act and for destruction of public and private property.
The third day of the strike petered out, however, with only about 200 protesters gathering in the inner city.
A few developments in the north of Joburg also drew attention, with Cosmo City receiving its first tenants. In a groundbreaking move, the project will be a mixed-income area, in stark contrast to the social and racial lines drawn during apartheid-era city planning.
Once finished, the R2-billion project will have 12 500 houses of varying value. It should be completed by 2007. About 5 000 of the lower income units are earmarked for people from the nearby informal settlements.
The fast-growing node of Midrand also has had its fair share of the limelight, with Gallagher Estate adding the Pan African Parliament to its complex. The parliament will consist of 265 delegates from 53 African nations.
Though it will only sit for two two-week sessions a year, about 540 permanent staff members will ensure that it runs smoothly.
Joburgers have not had any respite from the electricity blackouts that have plagued the city, but City Power has put together a five-year plan to refurbish its ageing distribution network.
Under the R2-billion programme, substations and cables will be upgraded, transformers and switchgears will be refurbished and public lighting will be installed throughout Johannesburg.
Masondo also announced in April that the City was to establish a new revenue organisation and spend R120-million upgrading and standardising its computer system in an effort to come up with a total solution to its billing and revenue challenges.
The new structure will be set up as a municipal service entity in terms of the Municipal Finance Management Act. It will seek to boost capacity and streamline systems in the billing and collection of revenue for all council entities, including utilities, agencies and corporatised entities.
It is expected to resolve billing queries quickly, increase collection rates and speed up the issuing of clearance certificates for people selling their properties.
To assist the many indigent residents who have accumulated debt, the City announced a special Municipal Services Subsidy, for which qualifying residents could apply.
As of October, more than 84 000 residents had benefited from the subsidy, with more than R1-billion in arrears written off. The City estimates about 100 000 people will apply for the subsidy, requiring some R1,5-billion to be written off in total.
Most of the beneficiaries are in the southern parts of the city, in areas like Soweto, Orange Farm, Ennerdale and Eldorado Park.
Enforcing by-laws throughout the Metro also has become an easier task for the metro police, with the City's first municipal court opening at the end of June.
The court, in Court 35 of the Johannesburg magistrates' court in Fox Street, deals with contraventions of by-laws in the inner city, regulating activities such as street trading, noise control and vandalism.
After being neglected throughout the years of the previous dispensation, Soweto has been given a much-needed boost in its water distribution and roads infrastructure.
Masondo had long made it his mission to ensure all roads in the country's largest township were tarred, and the objective was reached in July, well ahead of schedule.
The City spent R485,2-million and delivered 314,1 kilometres of tarred roads in three years. However, the project has not been limited to Soweto and has been extended to Ivory Park, Diepsloot and Orange Farm.
Millions of litres of water have also been saved in Soweto through Operation Gcin'amanzi, a five-year Joburg Water project that will replace the township's obsolete water distribution network.
With the pilot phase completed, Operation Gcin'amanzi is to be expanded into 13 adjacent areas, including Dlamini, Mapetla, Tladi, Jabulani, Dlamini Ext, Moroka, Molapo, Jabavu, Mofolo South, Naledi and Emdeni.
It is not just Mzansi's inner city that's buzzing - with commercial and retail developments in Soweto, it should only be a short while before it becomes a city in its own right rather than a dormitory town serving others further north.
By far the biggest development in Soweto is the Orlando Ekhaya project, which comprises of 300 hectares of prime property bundled and zoned into more than 90 000m² of development space.
It provides opportunities for a shopping complex next to the mothballed power station, parks with braai and entertainment facilities next to the Orlando Dam, a north shore waterfront and a wetlands conservation area, among other plans.
A major drawcard is the township's tourism potential, something that will be used by the Johannesburg Tourism Company in its new mandate to turn Joburg into a leisure tourism haven.
Apart from the Hector Pieterson museum, which is being established as an important place to visit, there are treasures such as the Credo Mutwa Village, a memorial walkway that is under construction and the newly developed Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication in Soweto.
The Credo Mutwa Cultural Village in Jabavu, also known as Khayalendaba or "Place of Stories", was one of the township's main tourist attractions before it was allowed to decay.
Johannesburg has since planned to use photographs of the site to restore it to its former glory. An added attraction is the Oppenheimer Tower alongside it.
In June two new sites were opened to commemorate the struggle against apartheid.
Firstly, Masondo launched a memorial walkway that will trace the path taken by the protesters on 16 June 1976. The 8,5km walkway travels from Naledi High School through the township to the Orlando West Police Station, next to the place where Hector Pieterson was shot dead.
Later that month Mbeki, joined by many senior political figures, commemorated the signing of the Freedom Charter at the newly built Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication in Kliptown.
It is hoped that the square, which will include The People Shall Govern Museum, will become a catalyst for regeneration in the badly neglected Kliptown area.
The museum will be housed in one of the two new buildings that flank the square, in a R110-million project. Also in the buildings there is space for 500 hawkers in small stalls, offices, banks, formal retail space, a tourism office, restaurants, an art gallery and a community hall.
The renewal programme also involves the preservation of historical buildings in Kliptown, such as the houses of activists Charlotte Maxeke and Stanley Lollan and exiled artist Gerard Sekoto.
To make it easier for tourists to navigate the township, a tourism information centre has been opened at the square.
It aims to develop the Soweto tourism industry by grouping local tourism-related businesses under one umbrella, to ensure they receive the same publicity and use a single brand to promote the township.
Soweto's tourism industry contributes R143-million to Gauteng's gross domestic product, and has created more than 1 400 jobs.
Access to the township has also vastly improved, following the establishment of the Baralink transport node, opposite the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Diepkloof.
More than R30-million was spent on the first three phases of the project, with another R30-million set aside for the fourth phase.
By 2007 once the latest phase is completed, the rank will have 129 single bays and 91 double-lane bays, easing congestion along one of Soweto's main arterial roads.
Phase five will consist of work on pedestrian bridges and the installation of CCTV cameras and lighting along Old Potchefstroom Road, for the safety of commuters and pedestrians.
Also boosting the regeneration of the southern regions is the upcoming 2010 Soccer World Cup. The FNB Stadium is likely to host the opening and final matches of the tournament and Joburg is making sure that it will capitalise on the opportunities offered.
In June, the City approved the Nasrec Development Urban Design Framework, which aims to turn Nasrec into a world-class sports, tourism and exhibition hub.
Considering the many changes taking place - most for the better - the City of Gold is making great strides to cement its position as Africa's only "World City" .