The first mayor of Johannesburg and a new glory for the city of gold – World – ABC Color

“We have a shared vision of a new Johannesburg, a Johannesburg restored to its former glory. ‘Joburg’ used to be the City of Gold,” Phalatse explains in an interview with Efe, in the meeting room of the city’s largest city. city ​​and economic heart of South Africa.

Phalatse, who belongs to the liberal Democratic Alliance (the main opposition party in South Africa), took office as mayor last November with the support of other political parties (as none obtained an absolute majority) knowing that, even with her titanic task, she still to begin with, I was already writing a pioneering chapter.

At 45, this career doctor is the first black woman to head the Johannesburg Metropolitan Region City Council.

Only one other politician had been in charge of the city before, Jessie McPherson, between 1945 and 1946, but at that time the government did not have the current status (Metropolitan City Council) and was therefore a different institution.

“I feel like it’s an honor. I could have been any other woman but God chose me to be that woman. I really don’t take it lightly, I really appreciate carrying that title. But I also realize the responsibility that comes with it. She says that you are the one in the lead, you open the door for other women,” she reflects.


Phalatse’s career actually began far from politics: she was a doctor and, while working with vulnerable communities, she realized that there were problems that she could not fix with medicine, but with leadership.

“I’m trained to bring things back to life that are almost dead, so I think a lot of the skills of medicine are transferable. The city is the patient, it’s sick and it needs to be brought back to life. So you use the same approach: you take the history, diagnose and develop the treatment plan,” says Phalatse.

With its city center littered with semi-derelict skyscrapers, Johannesburg is an almost perfect metaphor for the problems facing South Africa: a gigantic organism full of possibilities that doesn’t quite work.

In South Africa, the legacy of the racist apartheid system is still visible in the form of high levels of poverty and deep inequality.

The almost three decades that have passed since the arrival of democracy – a period in which the African National Congress (ANC, the movement in which Nelson Mandela was a member) has been at the head of the country uninterruptedly – have not yet managed to heal those wounds.

In recent years, moreover, they have added a serious problem of corruption and much discomfort due to the poor management of the most developed economy in Africa.

Rampant unemployment (around or above 30% for years), the electricity crisis that keeps the population perpetually dependent on scheduled blackouts, and insecurity are just some of the additional problems that South Africans deal with. And all of them look like few places in Johannesburg.

Although the task of turning the situation around seems monumental, especially after the covid-19 pandemic, Phalatse believes that he can achieve it in two five-year terms.

“We don’t bring big ideas for this term, because we are realistic enough to understand that people are asking for toilets, houses, roads, drinking water, electricity…”, he maintains.

“It’s a challenge because South Africa is so diverse, including the socio-economic status of the people who live in Johannesburg. You have the millionaire on one side, who wants this first-world city, and you have someone in a slum saying ‘give me toilets. ‘ And you have to be able to respond to the needs of both, “he adds.


Phalatse’s initial priorities are to make Johannesburg a business-friendly city and to improve basic services. He also wants an ecological city that contributes to the global objectives of sustainable development.

His Johannesburg will also have “districts” with different utilities and tourist attractions. Music or health will be some of those axes and another will be dedicated to Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu, around the cathedral where he gave mass.

“They’re going to really beautify Johannesburg, but they’re also going to tell the story of Johannesburg,” says the mayor.

Although his current priority is this great metropolis of almost 7 million inhabitants, Phalatse does not rule out a national political career in the future. She would even run for the Presidency if presented with that option, but she is not worried about reaching that goal as the first woman.

“I would definitely take that opportunity (…) But I still have to fix Johannesburg, so I’m not going to run for president just because I want to be first. If someone else comes first, that’s fine.”

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The first mayor of Johannesburg and a new glory for the city of gold – World – ABC Color