Just keep communicating, says PMB councillor

2015-07-09 11:55
Eunice Majola, councillor of ward 34 in Pietermaritzburg. (Amanda Khoza, News24)

Eunice Majola, councillor of ward 34 in Pietermaritzburg. (Amanda Khoza, News24)

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Pietermaritzburg - After parking my car outside a community hall in Pietermaritzburg’s busy East Street, I cross the road to meet African National Congress (ANC) councillor Eunice Majola.

My question on whether the councillor was there only elicited the response: "No, no one is here" from an elderly man dressed in blue municipal gear.

Realising I was lost and already 15 minutes late for our 8am meeting, I called Majola again and, on getting directions to Eastwood community hall, finally came face-to-face with the 59-year-old councillor wearing a warm smile.

Looking smart in an orange knee-length coat covering a black dress, she said: “You managed to find your way to Eastwood. My name is Eunice Majola, I am the councillor of ward 34.”

She throws her arms wide open to embrace me before inviting me inside against the cold and I explain again that my task is to spend the day with her to understand a councillor's role - basically what a typical day would be like.  

Proof of residence

Before we can start talking, a woman walks in and asks Majola to assist with a proof of residence letter.

“What is your address? What are you going to do with the proof of residence?” Majola asks the woman.

“I want to open an account, Ma,” she responds.

Majola, who has been a councillor since 2011, says she sees about 50 people per day wanting proof of residence letters required for any official business.

“When we have the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa), which is once a month, we see about 200 people per day. My secretary Candice Hammond usually deals with it while I attend to other community matters.

“Our office opens at 8am to 4pm. I spend Monday and Friday in this office, because it is the only time I have to listen to confidential issues like people wanting assistance from the municipality,” she says.

We are interrupted by a young woman who walks in with a child.

“How can I help you?” asks Majola.  

“I am here to apply for a Regulation 11,” she says.

No IDs

Majola explains that the young girl from Matatiele was left looking after her sister's two children upon her death. However, the children stopped received social grants, because the young girl did not have an ID book. Now Majola's office must write a motivation letter to Sassa for the grant.

“Sassa will then approve the grant for three months so the woman can sort out her ID and provide food for the children.”

The 23-year-old is one of many community members who do not have IDs. The sadness is many community members die without an ID and they cannot be recorded.

When the woman leaves, Majola explains Ward 34 is comprised of six areas - Glenwood, Cinderella Park, Madiba Park, Thembalihle, Eastwood and Panorama. These areas are plagued by unemployment, drugs and housing.

“Some of the community members come to my home in Glenwood to report issues and I just welcome them in. You can’t turn them away.”

While Majola is expanding on her career as a councillor that began in 2010, another woman walks in.

“How was the funeral?” Majola asks her.

“Everything went well, but there are problems in that family,” comes the response.

Majola introduces me to the woman, explaining she is one of the community caregivers.

“We work with a lot of community caregivers. Last Friday we received a call about an elderly woman discovered dead in her home in Cinderella Park and we went there. This lady is just giving me an update,” says Majola.

‘We record everything’

The pair continue talking about the funeral for about 15 minutes when another man walks in, also asking for a proof of residence letter.

Afterwards Majola turns to me.

“We record everything that happens. When we receive a complaint from the community, we forward it to the municipality and get a reference number that helps us when we make follow-ups. I find the community does not understand I can’t fix street light, burst pipes and I don’t make ID books.

“The best way to deal with the issues is to keep communicating on what steps you have taken to assist them,” says Majola.

The councillor excuses herself and walks into her office with a community member, closing the door behind her.

While Majola attends to the man, an elderly man walks in and Hammond asks him how she can assist. He tells her he is here to inform the councillor he is indigent.

“Most of the community don’t know they have to apply to be indigent. It must be a household earning below R3 000,” explains Hammond, adding municipal officials collect the documents from their office twice weekly.

Burst water pipe, no street lights

When Majola walks out her office, she is met by a woman complaining about a burst water pipe.

“The municipality hasn’t come [to fix it], Councillor, and we have no street lights,” she says.

Majola takes her details and street name and records it in her book, thanking the woman for reporting the problem.

A woman enters the office and asks to speak to Majola in private and the pair leave for Majola’s office.

How much does she earn?

When Majola comes out after a while we carry on from where we left off.

“Between Tuesday and Thursday I attend council matters. I am on the executive and am also chair of the economic development portfolio committee. We have a portfolio meeting every second Tuesday and full council every last Wednesday of the month.”

She says being a ward councillor is the toughest role of the three hats she wears.

“You can’t predict what issues you are going to deal with. My ward is also diverse. I have Indian, coloured and black people. There are very poor people, middle-class and the wealthy and all those people present very different problems.”

Majola, who earns between R25 000 and R30 000, says she is on the road by 6am to avoid the early morning traffic.

“The challenge is not being a female councillor. The problem is being a working woman in general. I am a mother, a wife and a grandmother so the work never ends.

“I had three children, but two died. I also look after my five grandchildren, but my husband has been very supportive. He makes this job very easy.”

Majola admits she struggled in the beginning.

“People would swear at me and accuse me of 'doing nothing' when I have done everything to try and help them. Now I understand it is all part of the job.

“When I became a councillor, the municipality was under construction and there were no funds - that really affected service delivery, but we are fine now.”

‘Being a councillor is not easy’

We are interrupted by a woman who asks Majola to ask the municipality to put traffic lights in her area.

“The traffic is bad,” the woman laments.

Majola makes a note and promises to pass on the request.

When the woman walks out, Majola signals the man entering her office is mentally unstable.

“He’s a regular here. He thinks I am the mayor,” she laughs.

He asks Majola for a R5 coin to buy a can of coca-cola, but does not respond to her comment that a can of cooldrink costs more than that.

We end the interview with a tray of shisanyama from Hlophe’s butchery across the road.

“You see, being a councillor is not easy,” she says, laughing.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  service delivery  |  local government

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