Balfour – price of poverty

2011-07-09 16:11

All that depicts poverty, the slow pace of development and poor workmanship is glaringly apparent in Siyathemba township, near Balfour in Mpumalanga.

The main road surrounding the township in Dipaleseng municipality is partly tarred and paved but gives one a bumpy ride on sections where it has gaping potholes.

It ends abruptly where it meets dusty internal streets with a maze of furrows caused by rainwater.

Shacks are sprouting up all over Siyathemba, even on wetlands.

Most RDP houses have flakes of paint peeling off the walls and inside, few have dividing walls.

Some people were left only with foundations in their yards. At night, young men mill about in dark places.

Most of the streets and high mast lights are out of order and during the day, clumps of youngsters gather in small groups, talking leisurely and puffing something.The most common drug here is “nyaope” – a concoction of marijuana and heroin.

The football and athletics stadium where they should be keeping busy is a sorry sight.

One young fellow loitering with his three friends next to a burned structure that used to be the community library, whines about the lack of service delivery.

“Groot man (sir), nothing will improve here no matter how many times we burn things. I’ve given up on this place,” he says in street lingo, as he shares a cigarette with his friends.

“This building,” he says pointing to the library, “should be turned into a tavern as there’s no hope it will be a library again!”

Many Siyathemba residents who spoke to City Press feel the provincial government hasn’t done enough since the protests in July 2009 and in February.

Dirty water and the unreliable electricity supply are still mentioned by most as problems.

Their February protests prodded President Jacob Zuma to dispatch national and provincial government teams to the municipality, but most community members are still not satisfied with the subsequent interventions.

The residents still have a number of complaints: dirty water, erratic electricity, incomplete RDP houses, bad roads and the lack of residential stands for squatters.

They also demand the construction of a police station, a hospital, a skills development centre, a further education and training (FET) college and to be re-demarcated into Gauteng.

None of these demands have been met, although the departments of health in Mpumalanga and in Gauteng have signed a memorandum of understanding that allows patients from Balfour to be treated at Heidelburg Hospital, which is 25km away. Before, ­patients had to travel 80km to Standerton.

According to one of the community leaders, Lifu Nhlapho, the residents may take to the streets again in protest.

He says: “There’s quite a lot that hasn’t been done. For example, we’re still waiting for a concrete decision on moving the municipality to Gauteng.

All the statements we’ve had so far have been non-committal.

“We’re planning to march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria on April 27, but were told that President Zuma wasn’t going to be available to meet us.”He adds: “We’ll give the new council (of Dipaleseng) a chance to prove itself, even though it’s not a new council as such. The ANC brought back the same councillors in different posts.”

Dipaleseng municipal manager Patrick Malebye stressed that the residents’ complaints cannot be addressed overnight.He says a May 13 report presented by Minister Nathi Mthethwa, who is also acting as corporative governance and traditional affairs minister, shows much work still needs to be done.

“We agree there are a lot of challenges but we’re making progress.

The report highlights a number of areas where we’ve improved and it shows we can do a lot if we strengthen co-operative governance between municipalities, provincial and national governments,” he says.

Malebye adds that the municipality had teamed up with the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA).

 “Dipaleseng cannot hire and retain people with scarce skills like engineers.

So DBSA is providing experts in water and sanitation, roads and storm water drainage and electricity.“These experts will assist us to devise operational and maintenance plans for our infrastructure,” he says.“We don’t get an operation and maintenance grant from the national government.

Our revenue collection is just not enough as most people are unemployed, so we can’t maintain our infrastructure.”

However, Dumisani Zwane, an opposition councillor from the newly-formed Socialist Civic Movement, has a different view. “With all due respect, the ANC has brought back the same councillors who failed and got disclaimers from the auditor-general’s reports.

“Change creates expectations and since Balfour is the focus of the whole country, it needs strong leadership.”

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