Malamulele: A ghost town fights for its rights

2015-01-25 15:00

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Malamulele is a ghost town.

Two weeks into a protest designed to force authorities to give the Limpopo town its own municipality, its residents are going hungry.

Its shops, banks, post office and petrol stations are closed and informal traders have been barred from its central business district.

Limpopo’s schools reopened for the 2015 academic year – but not those in Malamulele.

People who have jobs in nearby Giyani and Thohoyandou cannot go to work. Cars are not allowed to leave or enter.

There are three roads on a 40km stretch of the R81 that can be used to access Malamulele.

They are manned 24 hours a day by hostile young men whose menacing glares are enough to make even the bravest motorist turn back. Some of the “guards” wear T-shirts that read: “100% Malamulele Municipality”.

Although this has been more of a cold freeze than a hot war, there have been violent incidents and hundreds of police officers have been dispatched to Malamulele to keep the peace.

On Tuesday, two police officers were taken to hospital with serious injuries – their car overturned after hitting a massive steel pipe that Mavembe residents had used to barricade the road to their village, about 3km outside Malamulele.

Their car was burnt to a shell.

This is not a new fight, but its mostly peaceful manifestation is something the community has never seen or done before.

“In 2000 when municipalities were formed, we realised our Levubu-Shingwedzi Transitional Local Council (TLC) was merged with the Greater Thohoyandou TLC to form the Thulamela Municipality,” Noel Manganyi told City Press this week.

Manganyi is the deputy chairperson of the task team residents set up in 2011 to withdraw from the Thulamela Local Municipality.

“From that time, we realised something was wrong and started engaging the MBD [Municipal Demarcation Board] by writing letters and meeting cooperative governance officials,” he said.

Malamulele, which is predominantly home to Tsonga-speaking people, is governed by Thulamela. The municipality’s offices are Thohoyandou, in Venda, about 35kms away.

By 2011 Malamulele realised its efforts were not bearing fruit, so the task team was established.

“We formalised our request, filled in documents and provided the MBD with all the facts and figures they requested. We had letters of support from Thulamela and the relevant MEC,” Manganyi said.

So they were surprised, in 2013, to hear the MDB announcing in newspapers and on radio that the case was closed and Malamulele was not getting its own municipality.

That was when Malamulele made national headlines amid fiery, violent protests. In one week, R40 million worth of property was destroyed.

President Jacob Zuma visited the area ahead of last year’s national elections – and was booed and heckled by some residents.

The task team later explained that people were uspet Zuma did not address people in their native Shangaan, instead speaking English.

This underscored ethnic tensions which are intertwined with residents’ service delivery concerns. Most in Thohoyandou speak Venda, and some residents believe their ethnicity guarantees them better service.

A resident who spoke to City Press on condition of anonymity said: “You see, more than 20 of the 40 councillors (in Thulamela) are Venda speaking and you know council decisions are always decided through the vote.

“So the Tsonga speaking councillors are always outvoted and now they resent being ruled or governed by Vendas,” the resident said.

But Manganyi and the task team’s general secretary Isaac Nukeri downplayed suggestions of ethnic tension, saying Vendas and Tsongas had always happily co-existed together.

The national department of cooperative governance and the task team held several meetings after 2013’s violence, and residents were promised the MBD would reopen their case.

Then the MBD got new members.

“They told us that a decision will be made soon, and we are still waiting. That is why the community is so angry,” Manganyi said.

But why a total shutdown instead of the flames and chaos that dominated headlines two years ago?

Nukeri said this new tactic was a way to put pressure on officials to act.

Residents want out of Thulumela because they say it’s simply too big to be properly managed. It has 40 wards, of which about 24 are in Venda.

Malamulele is actually made up of 107 villages, while there are 120 villages in Venda. Thulamela serves more than 650 000 people.

Nukeri said: “Roads this side are bad compared to (in Thohoyandou). If you request services, they tell you there is no money while they are constructing their roads every day that side. There are tarred roads in villages that side. We don’t even have a library here, while they have a university (Venda) and a Technical and Vocational Education and Training college within 300 metres of each other.”

Recently, offices of the departments of public works, water affairs and agriculture were relocated from Malamulele to Sibasa, which is just outside Thohoyandou.

“We see this as a deliberate move to make sure we don’t qualify for our own municipality,” Nukeri said.

The task team intends lifting its curfew each weekend to assess what is happening to Malamulele and whether their fight is reaping any rewards.

But, Nukeri warned as he looked out across Malamulele’s quiet streets, the residents will win in the end – whatever the cost.

Some of the ‘guards’ wear T-shirts that read: ‘100% Malamulele Municipality’

Shutdown hits where it hurts

Esther Chauke couldn’t wait for schools in Malamulele to reopen on January 14.

Chauke, a mother of three, survives and feeds her family by selling amagwinya (vetkoek) to pupils in the area.

Each vetkoek costs R1, so she’s hardly making a massive profit – but that money helps Chauke pay her stokvel contributions and feed her family.

Malamulele’s schools didn’t reopen on January 14. Even if they had, she wouldn’t be able to make her vetkoek because all the shops were closed and she couldn’t buy flour, cooking oil or anything else.

Chauke, who lives within walking distance of the town’s centre, told City Press: “I can’t walk to town because the shops are closed. The strike is hurting us because we can’t do anything around here. Our kids are going hungry. Not that we have money, but even if we had, we wouldn’t be able to buy because no shop is open for business.

“Look at the children. They are supposed to be in school but they are sitting here, eating mangoes falling from the trees because they have nothing to eat. I really can’t wait for the strike to end.

“It is hurting me in a very real way,” Chauke said.

Despite all this, Chauke supports the task team and its shutdown of Malamulele.

“We want our municipality. Not only are we going to get services, but I’m sure our kids will find employment there. No one works in this family. We need to make ends meet.”

A world apart, 40km away

Whether by design or default, Malamulele and Thohoyandou look like they’re in different countries.

Thohoyandou looks like a proper town with its numerous government offices, street lights, traffic circles, dual-lane roads, nicely trimmed parks, a library and traffic lights.

There are also a multimillion-rand transport terminus, neat pavements, shopping centres, a mall and public toilets.

Malamulele, with its one main rutted and potholed street, has none of these.

Thulamela Local Municipality spokesperson Moses Tshila and Mayor Grace Hosana refused to comment about the differences between the towns when we visited their offices in Thohoyandou.

A highly placed official said that in this financial year alone, the council had spent more than R83?million in ­Malamulele. But the source could not supply documents to prove this.

The official said the reason Malamulele’s task team wanted a municipality in its area was because its members were positioning themselves for senior council jobs and tenders.

“We have already seen an organogram of who will be mayor, municipal ­manager, directors of this and that. The people [in Malamulele] have never complained about services.”

Noel Manganyi and Isaac Nukeri of the task team flatly denied these allegations.

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