Gagging on broken promises

2011-03-12 18:20

On the rubbish dump between Amos Shoe Repairs and the Dark & Lovely hair salon, a fire is raging, wafting a dreadful stench into Refilwe. Children play in the smoke, coughing.

The inhabitants of this township – adjacent to Kungwini (Bronkhorstspruit), one of ­government’s Project Consolidate towns in Gauteng – shrug philosophically.

Municipal manager Jo Gomba was the Project Consolidate ­saviour deployed by Gauteng to save the town that had disintegrated under its pre-Gomba ANC management.

He is now on special leave ­after a KPMG forensic investigation last year found evidence of tender irregularities, corruption, fraud, irregular awards of ­contracts and nepotism.

Kungwini mayor Obed Maila and speaker Agnes Mahlangu have also resigned.

Refilwe residents say they are now used to the bad smells.

They have to burn the rubbish because refuse removal is not a service their terminally ill ­municipal government provides.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you for helping us,” Maria Mahlangu tells the newspaper ­photographer.

“God bless you. This smell is making us ill.”

She may be coughing and ­gagging, but Maria and her shackland neighbours are ­Kungwini’s more fortunate ­inhabitants.

Refilwe at least has a few tarred roads, houses and electricity. But Zithobeni, another township administered by the Kungwini municipality, has nothing.

It is a shack town. Its dusty streets are potholed beyond ­belief. It is full of outside, ­shanty-type toilets. Only a tiny number of Zithobeni’s residents have water and electricity.

Its inhabitants hate the conditions they live in.

“The crime is bad. We have no toilets or roads. The schools are far. The environment is in a bad condition,” says Ellen Shumba.

Nobody in this township has a decent roof over their heads.

Freddy Maluleke says: “We cry when it rains because the food is wet, our clothes are wet.”

The municipality has been promising houses for ages, adds Jacob Mahlangu. “But they do nothing. People even dig their toilets themselves.”

Andries Mosupi has been a resident of Zithobeni for 20 years. “And I still don’t have a house,” he says.

But it’s not only the poor ­residents of Kungwini who are suffering.

The wealthy living in areas to the east of Pretoria recently had their water supply cut off for two days because the council did not pay its water bill.

They went to court to have their water reconnected.

The municipality can’t tell the auditor-general how it blew a whopping R147?million in its 2008/09 budget.

The municipality’s officials could not provide the documents to show how this amount had been spent, but used broad terms such as “general ­expenses” to justify it.

Kungwini is one of the municipalities under investigation by the Hawks, the ­Special Investigating Unit and Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Sicelo Shiceka’s new fraud-busting unit.

Shiceka has told the media that “we are going to arrest ­people there”.

But that is a small consolation for the people who thought that they would get a decent roof over their heads when Project Consolidate arrived five years ago.

“All they can look forward to is another 20 years in shacks!” Zithobeni resident Mosupi ­angrily exclaims.

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