Freedom’s bumpy road

2011-05-14 10:49

Freedom is yet to come to my birthplace, the district of Senwabarwana, formerly known as ­Bochum, in Polokwane.

Gone is the shine and pride of ­Polokwane as the town where a ­successful palace coup of the ruling party and the reinvention of the ANC as an instrument of a developmental state took place.

Polokwane shares the tragic legacy of divided South Africa, where ­apartheid’s geography is being replicated by a class divide under the watch of successive post-apartheid governments.

The suburban northeastern part boasts beautiful homes, including the monstrously large and ethically offensive Tender Park, where those who have milked state tenders live luxurious lives.

The western areas of the town where Seshego township is situated remain poor and the infrastructure remains underdeveloped.

Poor rural folk continue to pour into Seshego’s growing shanty areas in search of jobs, exacerbating the problem of overcrowding.

On Good Friday I embarked on a journey to my natal hometown 95km west of Polokwane.

As we leave the centre of town driving west on the road towards ­Seshego, one is struck by how the town, especially its infrastructure, is crumbling.

The beautiful town of my childhood, where pavements were sparkling clean, and birds and bees ­enjoyed the colourful flowers, is no more.

Litter, noise and broken items are the new features of Polokwane Marothong, the place of fresh bread, as we used to refer to it.

Did the ­removal of racial discrimination have to lead to the deterioration of the town’s infrastructure?

As we drive further on the Alldays Road D3398, which ultimately leads to Zimbabwe, you will notice the beauty of the peaceful grass and thorn bush landscape dotted with hills and rocky mountains as we cross the Tropic of Capricorn going further west.

About 70km into our journey from Polokwane, we encounter the little town of Mogwadi (old name Dendron), a proud growing settlement of predominately middle class black people.

Mogwadi is an example of incremental housing by rural people.

Houses range from comfortable modest homes to middle-class abodes to double-storey homes ­belonging to business people and tenderpreneurs.

This is progress for those fortunate and smart enough to harness the ­opportunities available to those who know the right people in the right places in the public service.

It is often who you know and not what you know that brings success.

We then turn left into Road D3332 towards Senwabarwana, the local seat of government in my native district of Bochum.

The lush green grass on the sides of the narrow tarred road is littered with unspeakable trash: plastic bags, bottles, tins, broken goods.

The faces of the residents on the sides of the road look tired, anxious and sad. We stop at a local garage to fill up.

You notice the paving that is in a sorry state.

Locals and shoppers from remote villages are eating fried food bathed with the smell of stale cooking oil.

Right across from the restaurant is the ANC constituency office – peaceful and closed on Good Friday. We continue our journey west.

My emotions are always stirred when I stop at the T-junction across the road from Helen Franz Hospital where I was born 63 years ago.

The mud-brick rondavels where my mother and my grandmother spent much of December 1947 waiting for my arrival are still standing proudly?– a tribute to the ingenuity of indigenous African architecture.

Imagine how much better we could have done if we had harnessed this indigenous knowledge to enable poor people to build their own homes on serviced plots with appropriate basic water and sanitation infrastructure.

Imagine how many jobs we could have created by involving rural young people in apprenticeships to become artisans, who could then ­establish enterprises to service the development and maintenance needs of rural communities.

The unimaginative RDP matchbox is not only an affront to the dignity of poor people, but many are unfit for human habitation.

The National Home Builders’ Registration Council reported a few months ago that of the three million RDP homes built, 2.6?million (87%) were high-risk structures.

It estimated that R59?billion was needed to remedy minor and major defects on these houses.

Imagine what could have been accomplished if R59 billion had been invested in incremental housing.

This is a demonstration of how corruption is a tax on poor people who have to forgo basic services because money is diverted into the pockets of those who have captured the state.

We then turn left into the road that ultimately leads to Uitkyk No 1, my home village.

This road tells another story of the betrayal of our freedom ideals.

Promises were made to tar this road that connects Knobel ­Hospital to Helen Franz Hospital, making it easier for ambulances to ferry patients to and from the two.

It is also an arterial road that should provide rural folk with ­access to markets for goods and ­services.

For 10 or more years, the road has seen countless attempts at construction by tenderpreneurs, ­resulting in less than 5km tarred. What happened to the money?

Who is holding the MEC for infrastructure and the tenderpreneurs accountable for this failure to deliver?

We fasten our seat belts as the road gets worse. We turn off into what used to be a gravel road to Uitkyk, about 10km away from Bochum.

Here you take your life and that of your car’s into your hands.

The heavy late summer rains have left puddles of water and slippery areas around large muddy potholes.

The 10km trip takes the better part of 45 minutes.

As we drive carefully through these ­difficult roads, I would like you to ­notice the significant effort that has gone into building homesteads by residents of this district.

The poorest among them have small rondavels around neat enclosures (malapa) that enable household members to live in dignity while sharing modest facilities.

Many of the households have evidence of ­incremental building improvements. Rural people, like all human beings, are resourceful.

What is missing here is support from the local and provincial government to create the infrastructure to support their efforts.

Roads are the obvious missing link.

There is no waste-removal service and sanitation is left to each household.

Some houses have been electrified, but there is no evidence of a planned process with facilities for prepaid electricity.

My brother has been trying to get prepaid facilities for our home. ­Eskom has promised to get the prepaid system installed in due course. So we wait.

Waiting is an apt metaphor for the experiences of poor people all over South Africa.

For rural folk, this waiting is done out of sight and out of hearing of those in positions of power who are meant to serve them.

There is no scope for “service delivery protests” in Uitkyk. No media exposure. No visiting dignitary.

So they wait.

I speak to the many young people born and bred here.

They are part of the “not in school, not employed and not in training” desperate youth.

There used to be rural development projects here in the 1990s, but no more.

Income earners here are old people, retired migrant workers and young children who are recipients of grants.

There is no place for entertainment. No sports facilities.

The local secondary school, Madikwe, which was a high-performing maths and science school, is in decline due to low enrolment.

The future prosperity of rural communities, such as my home village, lies in turning the challenges they face ­into opportunities for sustainable ­rural development by harnessing the one asset in abundance – human ­capital.

Why do local authorities not mobilise the unem

ployed youth in Bochum and link them to training programmes?
This would ensure that adequate infrastructure is not only built, but maintained by proud citizens.

Ownership of one’s home and stewardship over the environment is what freedom is about.

The upcoming local elections should be judged by how we succeed in making freedom a reality in ­everyone’s life.

» Ramphele is founder of Letsema Circle

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