Rooigrond – the forgotten village

2012-08-04 14:08

It is easy to miss Rooigrond, an impoverished village 10km outside the North West capital of Mahikeng. The Rooigrond prison on the side of the road is likely to catch your eye before this shack village.

For the past six years, this community of about 500 households has been in limbo, resisting eviction by the Mahikeng Municipality.

We arrive in Rooigrond on a Monday afternoon just after Mahikeng mayor Lenah Miga began to address locals.

It’s evident half the residents haven’t had a bath for some time. Some want the mayor to know: “Re a baba, re a nkga. Ga re a tlhapa (Our skins are itching, we stink. We have not taken a bath,” an elderly man told Miga. Rooigrond residents arrived in 1993 when they were fired by white farmers on the eve of the declaration of South Africa as a democratic state.

Government allowed them to settle on land across from Rooigrond prison. The provincial department of agriculture even undertook in writing to give the community land to start a farming project.

Most of the residents cannot read, write or speak English, but are skilled farmers.

In 2006, however, the municipality changed its decision and ordered the community to be resettled. This was the beginning of a fight that today floods social networking forums and international news sites.

To force residents to accept relocation, government cut off services that had already been provided to Rooigrond, said Tsietsi Mothupi, chairperson of the residents’ committee.

Half the village was already electrified, municipality trucks delivered water, a multimillion-rand housing development project had been approved and a contractor appointed, but all that stopped when the community refused to be relocated.

Among basic things the community requested in many letters to several government departments was the provision of water and the reinstatement of services such as a mobile health clinic, allowing ambulances and disaster management services access to the settlement and reissuing permits to taxis to operate in the settlement.

Koketso Moeti (25), a young community activist, started raising awareness about the community’s problems on social networking forums
in 2009.

A long walk to freedom: Rooigrond

“It was to mobilise resources for the community and to get capacity that we don’t have, to face government,” said Moeti, project coordinator for Operation Rooigrond.

The campaign worked. With building materials donated by a local farmer, residents built a multipurpose community centre that serves as an early learning centre, a soup kitchen, a library, a second-hand clothing collection point and a meeting hall.

Paul Krynauw, a Cape Town man who befriended the community on Twitter, donated 12 solar panels to generate power to pump water from a borehole.
A windmill no longer works because there’s no diesel to power it. Government used to provide diesel “whenever they wanted to, sometimes once in three months”, Mothupi said.

Professor Linda Stewart from North West University tried in vain to get the government to help the community. In her letter to Premier Thandi Modise last December, Stewart literally begged for attention. “Just 30 minutes,” she said.

“I have no personal interest in the matter nor do I want to enter into confrontation. I merely beg of you to allow me to discuss the problems faced by the community.”

Stewart blames Rooigrond problems on “political ignorance” and “government’s naivety”.

Miga promised to save residents from eviction within a month. “We agree that our people should have water because water is life,” she said.

“I agree that you should stay here. I’m committing myself. It won’t take more than a month to start building houses and fixing the problems.”

And during his appearance before Parliament’s portfolio committee on human settlements last week, MEC Nono Maloyi said Mahikeng Municipality undertook to revoke the eviction decision “as a means of intervention to stabilise the area”.

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