Presidential stimulus package gives life to Ponte City, Joburg residents

Ponte City was once hijacked by gangsters who stripped the entire building and elevators. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)

Ponte City was once hijacked by gangsters who stripped the entire building and elevators. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jun 9, 2023


Manyane Manyane

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THE once-hijacked Ponte City building in the Johannesburg CBD has been turned into a safe place and a hub for some business projects.

The building, which is one of the tallest residential towers in Africa, was hijacked by gangsters who stripped the entire building and elevators. They charged people to stay there and drug dealings and prostitution thrived behind its grey walls.

This was because there was no maintenance for the building and people threw their trash in the middle. Even those who were suicidal would simply jump.

When the building was opened in 1975, Ponte City was considered a luxury place to live with apartments for the rich because of the breathtaking views across the centre of Johannesburg. Situated in Berea, near Hillbrow, the address was desirable being located 35 minutes from OR Tambo International Airport and close to the inner city.

This is an unusual design shaped like a toilet roll because the local regulations at the time required kitchens and bathrooms to have windows for light and ventilation. Communal areas for the building included more than 50 shops, restaurants, and banking facilities.

After the apartheid government was voted out in 1994, Berea, Hillbrow and the surrounding areas were flooded by illegal and legal immigrants. Drugs, poverty, prostitution, crime, and urban degradation were rife.

The activities also caused the crime rate to increase in Ponte Tower’s neighbourhood.

In 2003 the government evicted more than 10 000 people who occupied Ponte Tower illegally, and by 2006 the building was completely cleared out of squatters and rubbish inside.

Today, Ponte City provides affordable and safe residence to the people of Johannesburg and the surrounding areas. Even the businesses, which suffered a process of urban decay, are now showing signs of revival with growing activities by new businesses, residents, and creative entrepreneurs running through the non-profit organisations.

This was after President Cyril Ramaphosa launched the social employment fund (SEF) as part of his Presidential stimulus package in 2020 to offset the economic impact of Covid-19. The Presidential stimulus package was established to protect jobs and livelihoods and to support meaningful work while the labour market recovers.

This includes digitisation of city records, the employment of homeless people as part of precinct management, action against domestic violence, revitalisation of industrial parks, circular economy interventions, urban agriculture, strategies to address substance abuse and more.

Among the NPOs that brought Ponte to life are Hlanganisa Institute for Development which was founded in 2008 as a champion for social justice. The organisation focuses more on the previously disadvantaged and marginalised communities. Hlanganisa said it has supported over 200 small grassroots organisations working to promote social justice and help empower communities.

The organisation’s director, Hlanganisa Chiedza Chagutah, said they currently employed more than 2 600 women as part of SEF. She said about 25 000 survivors of gender-based violence had been assisted in the last 11 months.

The Learning Trust organisation also trains participants in their programme delivery models to gain skills and experience in the following: literacy and numeracy support, academic tutoring, mentoring, sports coaching, life skills and creative arts workshop facilities.

The Johannesburg Inner City Partnership (JICP) is also helping in working towards a clean, safe and welcoming inner city. The organisation’s services include government advocacy and lobbying, stakeholder engagement and coordination, place-making facilities, precinct planning, fundraising and fund management, supporting emerging enterprises and promoting the inner city as a vibrant place to live, work, study and play.

JICP is working in a variety of sectors such as urban management, job creation, homelessness, public space, property, heritage and urban farming.

According to the Industrial Development Corporation, SEF has created 65 000 part-time jobs and 28 organisations across the country have received support from the fund through the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition.

To date, an amount of R800 million has been invested through 28 strategic implementing partners, contracted to deliver on the creation of 50 000 temporary work opportunities.

The programme leader on the Presidential employment stimulus Dr Kate Philip said no less than 80% of the funds received needed to be spent on wages.

“This ensures that the work supported by the fund is labour intensive, provides meaningful experience and delivers real social value. Social employment is not about work alone, but about creating high-quality assets and services for communities,” she said.

In terms of the criteria for Strategic Implementing Partners, Philip said: “Firstly, you must be an organisation involved in work that serves the common good and have a solid track record of community-based work. Over and above other institutional criteria, the organisations must demonstrate the capacity to employ at least 1000 participants at an average of 66 days per ordinary participant for the nine-month duration of the Programme. Applicants will have up to three months to ramp up their participant numbers to the maximum intended.”

The fund, according to Philip, provides other benefits – including work experience and skills – which can improve a person’s chances of being employed, becoming self-employed or starting their own business. The Social Implementing Partners offer a range of services: anything that represents work for the common good, place-making, health and care, safety and GBV, food security, education, communications and the art.

Belgian tourist Vitirino Rocha said the programme has changed a lot from what he heard about Johannesburg, saying he was told that it is dangerous but has been a different story upon his arrival.