On Sunday 14 October, Mndeni Nzimande and I attended an ANC meeting held in the Underberg low-cost residency. This is how our day unfolded:
The meeting was scheduled for 12:00, and we arrived there early for Mndeni to give me a quick tour of his side of Underberg low-cost. Apparently there is another side of it that he doesn’t frequent. The part he showed me, the side closer to Underberg, actually impressed me.
The RDP houses are neat, the dusty lanes between the houses look well kept, and generally speaking things are pretty tidy. It is obvious that the residents here have a lot of pride.
Whilst driving down one narrow lane, we passed the ANC councillor for ward 3, Patricia Mncwabe, easily recognizable in her new Hyundai Tucson, complete with a vanity plate. Readers might remember her from the 2008 drivers licensing scandal; she was one of the licensing office clerks that stood accused. She was currently canvassing the meeting by driving down the lanes speaking loudly into a hail speaker.
We arrived at the designated meeting point at 12. We were the only ones- except for a few ANC organisers, who were aggressively canvassing the meeting from their cellphones. Some I noticed, had up to three phones to manage – was quite impressive as to how adept this ANC telephonic canvassing worked. There were the usual larger than life speakers set up, blaring funky gospel-like music across the township. Knowing little more than the basic pleasantries of Zulu, I would not have known off-hand that the lyrics were venerating Jacob Zuma to the point where the man can walk on water. In lieu of the insight, I then started recognising other ANC leaders being mentioned in song.
I decided not to wait for things to happen, and opted instead for visiting the closest shebeen and taking things from there. It was a lovely warm day, and the prospect of a cold beer seemed like a sensible prospect to pursue. Mndeni was a little disgruntled as he doesn’t share my enthusiasm for cold beer, or any beer for that matter. I did point out that this was not my problem, and that in the interests of a balanced education of Underberg low-cost, a visit to the shebeen was of vital importance.
The shebeen was neat and tidy. Very colourful, and as tradition edicts, very, very loud. A few friendly young men lazed about sipping beers. I joined them. They were also waiting for the meeting to take place.
The meeting started in earnest an hour later, with what seemed to be a roll-call of sorts. It transpired that the first thing on the agenda was to garner, and renew ANC memberships. At R12 annually, it seemed easy enough. After a brief enquiry, it was stated that spending the R12 was the easiest part. The paperwork and bureaucracy being the hard part.
At this point it is important to remark that the general sentiment in Underberg low-cost (and probably broader too) regarding membership to the ANC, revolves around getting on the list for your own house. According to witnesses this sentiment is widely promoted by the ruling party, and anyone applying for a house not being an ANC member, might as well train chickens to migrate across the Atlantic.
We prepared to leave. I was not prepared to spend a perfectly beautiful Sunday paying witness to a roll call of ANC members in the community. Upon exiting the gate of the plot where the meeting was being held, we were confronted by a man who turned out to be the chairperson of Ward 3. I didn’t get his name or his phone number. I was however enlightened that he considered email to be something belonging in a box. Preferably a box in the ground a long distance away from him.
He asked us what we were doing there, and we replied that we wanted to cover the meeting, and maybe share any good news with other people online. At that point we were ordered to stay outside the gate, until we had permission to enter. Shortly afterwards Patricia Mncwabe came to confirm that they needed to consult with a more senior member. In the mean time we could take photos, but when the speeches started we had to be outside the gate. The more senior member arrived beleaguered with a Sunday newspaper beneath his arm. He stated that this ward didn’t fall beneath his governance, and that the local leaders would have to make the decision.
And so it was that we were ostracised outside the gate, a mere 20m from where the speeches were to be loud-hailed from the open-air gathering. It proved to be quite a good vantage point, as two matters of interest arose there.
The first was a conversation with an elderly gentleman, obviously angry at something if his animated discussion was anything to judge by. He was angry at the local councillor. He pointed out another new house that she had pertained not 50m away from where we stood. The house was easily discerned by being a lot larger, and a lot flashier than any of those surrounding it. He was upset that she had amassed so much wealth in a very short period of time whilst being ‘in power’. He was angry, but he stated that he loved the ANC, and that he would always support them.
It was obvious at this stage, listening to the songs, the chanting, and rhetoric, that this area is very much pro Zuma. Everything espoused indicated him to be a saint, and a saviour. Jacob Zuma is a man that can do no wrong.
The second interesting insight whilst standing outside the gate, was the shirt of one of the members. The logo on it celebrated the new Harry Gwala Region. This came as a small surprise, as the name change from KwaSani has not yet been finalised, and its current status quo, being opposed by many. The act of spending R5 million on a name change, when so many other needs can be met with that same money, boggles the concerned mind.
From having spent only a few hours in Underberg low-cost, I discerned 2 aspects of major concern to those staying here, who could certainly benefit from a R5 million investment.
A house in Underberg low-cost will set you back R25 000. On most of the plots with a house, there is also a shack, or a mud house. These humble dwellings are rented out at R300 per month. They have no ablutionary facilities, as the main house traditionally doesn’t share its own resources with the multitudes that don’t have. The residents of said shacks and mud houses have to find recourses in Underberg town itself (what other options are there?). Places like the Spar, The Village Mall and the Trout Walk centre offer the only western ablution option for them. I would hazard to say that these residents will benefit dramatically from a R5 million investment into ablutions. Not to make any mention of the health hazards...
Secondly: I was slightly shocked, but not surprised, to hear that there is no primary school in Underberg low-cost. Many of the child residents here have to walk to the Clowes’ farm school, down in the valley. R5 Million towards local education!!!
The speech, littered with slogans, was gaining momentum in the background. Mndeni, however was looking more ill by the minute, and wanted to leave. He muttered something about having heard enough lies. I greeted this sentiment with maybe too much enthusiasm, but I too was tired of standing outside the gate.
A day later I’m searching for the ‘good news’ in all of my Sunday spent at low-cost. I can refer to the obvious pride the residents have, the amiable atmosphere and friendliness of the people, and the fact that there is a school to go to, instead of none at all. More poignantly I’m looking for evidence of our ruling party having the interests of the residents at heart.
Confronted by the fact that money has already been spent (on shirts) on the name change of KwaSani, that the local councillor has a record tainted by fraud and corruption, that the Community watch contract was cancelled with little or no reverence to the legal costs involved (that the ratepayers will cover), never mind that we don’t have a community watch now...I’m finding it hard.
Evidence of leaders enjoying nice houses, and flashy cars abounds, ironically amidst escalating poverty. This is by and large a gross generalisation, and I’m certain that there are many individuals within our local governance structures that act in the best traditions of Plato’s perfect society. I’m pretty certain there are even more officials that harbour the best of intentions, but are handicapped by a lack of education. Maybe I should dig a little deeper to uncover these beacons of light in what seems like a tide of political bias, and lack of accountability.
Not allowing me to pay witness to the speeches was nothing short of being utterly retarded. I know the choice of word is heavy handed, but as it stands I consider it to be a euphemism for something much worse, and consider myself to be kind. Why not welcome me to witness something that they obviously believe in. Would I not perhaps like to become a member? Only R12 an annum. Instead I’m only confronted by suspicion, and consequently ostracised by a fearful leadership. All the ANC leadership in Underberg has managed to do, is to reinforce suspicion, and estrange themselves from any form of enquiry.
This is not the way to prosperity.
Tomorrow I will endevor to write a letter to the municipality. I'm hoping for some good news. That there are more houses to be built, or at least ablutions. Further to that, that there are plans for a primary school, or that there is in fact no need for one.
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