Tatane Project: Balfour still struggles

2014-04-29 08:00

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In the second instalment of the sixth series of City Press’ Tatane Project we visit Balfour, Mpumalanga, where little apparent progress has been made

It has taken years, but Johan and Gladys Sibaya finally have a home of their in Dipaleseng, but many issues remain unresolved

There is something strikingly different about Johan Sibaya’s home.

Eight months ago, the blind man’s home, which he shared with his wife, Gladys, was a shack made of corrugated iron sheets.

Today, the family lives in a two-bedroom brick house with a toilet and bathroom in Siyathemba township, outside Balfour.

An Orlando Pirates Football Club badge is displayed proudly on the wall outside.

“I’m a die-hard Pirates fan,” Sibaya says, as he returns from a clinic with a teenage boy who had accompanied him.

The floor of the house, which sports light-green painted walls, have been tiled.

There is an electric stove where Gladys is busy cooking phutu for lunch.

The Sibayas have a fridge now, a lounge suite and a TV.

But their new-found delight is only partly thanks to the Dipaleseng Local Municipality.

The Sibayas’ story is one of an inefficient government failing its people.

Before City Press alerted the Dipaleseng municipality to their plight in 2010, Sibaya had tried in vain to get help.

Last June, the new Dipaleseng municipal manager, Vusi Ngcobo, promised to resolve Sibaya’s problem.

That was the first commitment from a municipality that City Press had received in two and a half years, during which we made repeated requests for interviews.

Sibaya had registered for an RDP house about eight years earlier, but a bungle with the municipality’s beneficiary list saw his house built on the wrong stand and occupied by another family.

Mpumalanga’s department of health and social development built Sibaya’s new house in October, one of four given to the disabled.

“The councillors were angry and harping on that I bad-mouthed them to City Press. I told them I had to talk because they were not listening and were giving priority to their relatives,” he said.

President Jacob Zuma visited Balfour in 2009 when fed-up Siyathemba residents resorted to violent protests and torched a public library.

Nothing much has changed since then.

The roads are still bad. Some streets were paved but have quickly deteriorated, thanks to poor workmanship.

City Press found a grader and a group of men digging what used to be a potholed tar road that links the township to Balfour town.

The workmen said they were reconstructing the road.

A woman we found sweeping her yard complained about the area’s dirty water.

“The water is dirty. It smells of sewage, so I buy bottled water. The municipality sometimes closes the water for three days without informing us and when it comes back, it’s just a trickle,” she said. The granny said she did not know who her councillor was.

Lucky Makhoba (20), who said he was one of the protesters in 2009 and 2010, also complained about the water and roads.

“I really don’t see what the municipality is doing. You can see for yourself the condition of our roads and water is not always available,” Makhoba said.

Asked if he would vote, he said: “We’ve no choice but to vote the same: ANC.”

Auto Mathe (54) disagrees.

“Our councillors are busy and there is a big difference. I won’t mind voting them back again,” he said.

“As people, we differ. Personally, I see change?...?We have water and electricity.”

The police station has still not been built. But there has been a commitment from the department of higher education and training to build a Further Education and Training college in Balfour, among the 12 planned for various parts of the country.

The residents’ demand to be incorporated into Gauteng has gone up in smoke.

In November, Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza told them to be patient with his government.

This was two months after the residents ­reiterated to Zuma – while he was opening the recommissioned Grootvlei power station at an event last September – that they still wanted out of Mpumalanga.

“We must remain united as there cannot be a fruitful struggle without unity. As a provincial government, we will move a bit faster and fix what needs to be fixed,” Mabuza said.

Municipal manager Ngcobo kept his promise to City Press to make sure Sibaya got a house.

He also filled directors’ vacancies in the municipality, which stalled service delivery, but there are persisting administrative problems.

He promised to speak to City Press, but kept postponing the appointment.

In the 2009, 14?754 Dipaleseng residents cast their votes

Then and now

On my first visit to Balfour, when we began the Tatane Project three years ago, I saw school children and adults wading through water on the streets of Siyathemba township. It had just rained that afternoon and water flowed ankle-deep.

Piles of paving bricks were stacked along the roads as the Dipaleseng municipality prepared to pave them, which they did the next year.

Now the roads are deteriorating. In some parts, the bricks have been washed away by the rains and in others, small mounds have appeared along the surface.

It is all a sign of shoddy work.

A tar road winding around the township featured gaping potholes, which are now being repaired.

Locals we spoke to in 2011 complained of night-time crime that occurred because they had no street lights.

Today, towering lights dominate the township skyline, but residents say they haven’t worked in months.

The erratic and dirty water supply, as well as power outages, have continued for three years.

The municipality has not moved an inch and councillors are still not informing residents about cuts in supply.

The walls of the public library, which protesting residents torched in 2009, remain – and provide loitering youngsters with a hide-out to smoke or have a pee.

The stadium is still unkempt, with patches of grass here and there.

Youngsters loiter on street corners and in front of shops. Jobs are still very scarce.

Yet in all of this despair, Johan Sibaya finally has something to smile about: He is very happy with his two-bedroom brick house.

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