ELECTION PROMISE: Mayor Herman Mashaba has vowed to clean up the inner city in Johannesburg, which has fallen into a state of decay. Picture: Nhlanhla Phillips
ELECTION PROMISE: Mayor Herman Mashaba has vowed to clean up the inner city in Johannesburg, which has fallen into a state of decay. Picture: Nhlanhla Phillips

Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba is a year into his job and trying to make good on election promises to clean up the inner city. Yet different sources of data contradict his claim about the share of undocumented foreigners living there.
The mayor does not mince his word when it comes to the state of the inner city. Mashaba has often spoken of his plans to clean up the central business district of South Africa’s city of gold.

But one claim keeps resurfacing.

“As many as 80 percent of the inner city residents are undocumented foreigners,” Mashaba told business news publication Bloomberg. He said something similar in a Radio 702 interview before.

Johannesburg’s inner city includes wards 58, 59, 60, 62, 63, 64, 66, 67, 123 and 124, Mashaba’s acting spokesperson, Luyanda Mfeka, told Africa Check.

He said the mayor’s statement had to be understood in relation to his experience with “hijacked” buildings in the inner city.

Mfeka said raids on abandoned buildings revealed “a large portion of the specified buildings inhabitants are undocumented foreign nationals”.

“In the instance of the Cape York building, a formerly hijacked building within the inner city, of the 343 residents in the building, 303 were identified as undocumented foreign nationals,” said Mfeka. “That is just over 88 percent.”

The Cape York building was evacuated in early July after seven residents died in a fire.

Mashaba’s office was unable to provide information on how the residents’ nationalities were established, referring us to the Department of Home Affairs. But director of deportations, Nolwandle Qaba, said they “are unable to say how many undocumented migrants live in a particular building”, including Cape York.

City of Joburg Group Forensic Investigative Services spokesperson Lucky Sindane said “no data was collected at Cape York”.

Sindane said a planned raid at the building was put on hold as a result of the fire.

“It is during these crime prevention operations (raids) that we work with the Social Development Department and other stakeholders [and] that data is collected on the residents,” he said.

The Gauteng City Region Observatory (GCRO) is a partnership between the universities of Johannesburg and the Witwatersrand as well as the Gauteng provincial government. The GCRO builds datasets that can be used to inform the development of cities in the province.

Every two years, the GCRO conducts a Quality of Life survey. During the most recent one, carried out between July 2015 and May 2016, about 30000 respondents from across Gauteng were surveyed. According to the GCRO, the sample of respondents was designed to be representative at ward level for each of the 508 wards in the province.

A researcher at the GCRO, Christian Hamann, said the survey “does not point to proportions as large as 80 percent” of inner city residents being immigrants.

According to GCRO director Rob Moore, migrants who participated in the survey were not asked whether they are documented or not, so both documented and undocumented cross-border migrants would have been included.

Hamann analysed data for the inner city’s wards from the Quality of Life survey for Africa Check. It showed that of the respondents in the inner city wards:

26.2 percent had migrated to Gauteng from another country,

25.4 percent had migrated from another province,

48.5 percent had been born in Gauteng.

“It is important to note that these figures from the Quality of Life survey are average figures for the wards in the Johannesburg inner city and do not necessarily reflect the population demographic that might be found in hijacked buildings,” Hamann said. “This would require a dedicated study of its own to determine.”

A report by the city’s social development department on the raids of five derelict buildings in Doornfontein (ward 123) in July 2017 also does not support the mayor’s figure.

The report stated 183 residents were profiled, with 30.6 percent of them being foreign nationals. The majority were undocumented (47) and the Department of Home Affairs detained them.

Data from South Africa’s last census in 2011 similarly contradicts the mayor. Africa Check used Wazimap, an interactive website that provides access to census data, to pull data on the estimated share of people born outside the country in the inner city wards.

The highest share of foreign-born was in ward 64 (Berea and Hillbrow), where 43 percent of the respondents indicated they were born outside South Africa.

During the census, people were asked where they were born, not whether they are documented or not. It is therefore expected that “all types of immigrants” will be counted, a discussion document from Stats SA stated.

Professor Loren Landau from the African Centre for Migration and Society at the University of Witwatersrand said that Stats SA may undercount the number of foreigners but that “there is no reason to believe their estimates are off by an order of magnitude”.

“The mayor’s statement is an absurd and dangerous distortion of the truth. While there may be buildings or maybe even blocks in Johannesburg that are 80 percent foreign-born, even the inner city remains primarily South African.”

When Mashaba told a publication as many as 80 percent of the inner city’s residents are undocumented foreigners, he was basing it on his experience of hijacked buildings, a spokesperson said.

Mfeka responded: “Questions regarding the comment we were originally contacted about must be understood in relation to the executive mayor’s discussion with the journalist around his experiences with bad or illegally occupied buildings in the inner city.

“The mayor’s own experience during raids of these buildings, alongside SAPS, JMPD, Home Affairs and other entities, is that large proportions of the specified buildings’ inhabitants are undocumented foreign nationals.

“In the instance of the Cape York building, following the relocation of the persons living within, subsequent to a fire, and where the mayor had previously participated in a raid, of the 343 residents within the building, 303 residents were identified as undocumented foreign nationals - that is just over 88 percent of the inhabitants.

“Comment from Lucky [Sindane] has been in relation to another crime prevention operation at the same building subsequent to the mayor’s visit yet prior to the building burning down.

“On the 23rd June 2017, GFIS, JMPD and CRUM supported a crime prevention operation to Cape York which was led by the Minister of Police Fikile Mbalula.

“People staying at the Cape York were all taken out of the building and searched.

“No data of the occupants living in the building was collected on the day. An operation which was going to be led by GFIS was planned for a later date but the building caught fire.

“Disaster management stepped in and provided temporary shelter. The occupants were then profiled at Wembley Square.” - Africa Check