Mzuzile Mpondwana's burnt house. (Jenni Evans, News24)
Cape Town - May 28, 2015 is still etched in Philippi ANC ward councillor Mzuzile Mpondwana's mind.
It was the day he and his family lost their house and everything in it, when angry locals burnt his house down.
“It was a terrible loss. I lost everything,” he told News24.
His wife was in the house at the time. When his children returned from school, they found their home was gone.
It was destroyed during a wave of protests which targeted council vehicles and a bus.
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He had insurance cover for the structure of the house through a policy the African National Congress arranged for councillors. He was still trying to argue for the replacement of its contents.
“That was our house. I bought everything while working for 13 years as a teacher.”
Before becoming a councillor he taught mathematics at a local high school. He enjoyed his work as the regional secretary of the SA National Civics Organisation. When the ANC asked him to stand for the ward, he agreed, believing he would be able to serve the community even more.
He got 73% of the vote in a by-election on February 19, 2014. He replaced previous ANC councillor Thobile Gqola, who was removed for allegedly selling government houses meant for the poor.
When Mpondwana's house was burnt down, the family lived with his in-laws until the damage was repaired. His wife, Mandisa Nosiphelo Mpondwana, was still traumatised, he said.
Unlike councillors in wealthy suburbs who have to deal with vitriolic emails and insults over social media, their counterparts in informal settlements can have their house, car, or office destroyed in minutes if the people they are meant to serve are angry enough.
“But I decided, I am a councillor. It is not the first time it has happened to a councillor. I must soldier on.”
He continued with his constituency work in his ward, which included Lower Crossroads, Luzuko, the Thabo Mbeki and Marikana informal settlements, and Klipfontein.
It’s not about the money
“To be a councillor, you have to be very willing to work with the community, to organise, to assist people. It is not about getting money and getting paid.”
He cautioned prospective councillors they would not get rich on the job.
Councillors earned around R35 000 to R36 000 a month, before deductions, which was more than his teacher job paid, he said.
Councillors had nothing to do with tenders, and he wished there could be some education around this. They did make recommendations for some budget allocations, but never handled any money.
For councillors like him, there was little protection. He said the ANC expected locals to knock on councillors’ doors if they had problems.
“In my area there is a high rate of crime. Councillors don't have security, and even if they had a panic button, that is not security.”
Earlier this year, Mpondwana’s ward councillor office was destroyed. He was on his way home from a meeting on April 13 to discuss the August 3 elections. He was called back urgently with the news that a group of youths carrying guns had doused the office in petrol and burnt it down.
He lost simple, but valuable, things like the letterheads he used to vouch for people without formal addresses if they needed proof of residence for things like getting into a school, or opening a bank account.
At the time, ANC provincial executive committee member John Mfusi described the attack as “pure thuggery”.
“Where are the police? Councillors don't have bodyguards, they are supposed to be protected by the community,” he said.
Mpondwana remembers that his family quietly waited for him to come home after clearing out his gutted office.
Once he got home, they poured their hearts out and told him they were afraid.
The children could not concentrate at school and it was affecting their marks. They wondered if he was being selfish by wanting to continue being a councillor.
“I did not want to lose my family,” he said.
He decided to step down. His term would end with the August 3 election.
Ironically, he was now friends with the people who criticised him before his house was torched.
They wanted services - toilets, water, electricity, proper roads, and clinics - particularly in Marikana.
“That's why they burnt down my house,” he said.
At the time he had wondered whether it was related to fighting to get on to party lists.
Afterwards, he helped facilitate meetings with the City of Cape Town. The mayor's office explained that because the Marikana homes were on private land, there was nothing they could do on the property.
However, a compromise was reached and taps and toilets were installed on the border of the property.
“We became friends. We were enemies,” he said.
In the meantime, he would prepare to go back to teaching mathematics.
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