Meqheleng: ugliness seething with resentment in a setting of beauty

2011-04-18 10:00

Residents of Meqheleng township have a spectacular view of the imposing 450m-high Imperani Mountain to the west and a breathtaking sight of great hills and mountains in the kingdom of Lesotho to the east.

The township is located on the western banks of the Caledon River, which serves as the international border with Lesotho.

Standing at the home of Andries Tatane, the man who was brutally killed by police during a protest march in Ficksburg this week, one can almost touch the Lesotho town of Maputsoe, which lies on the eastern banks of the Caledon.

The beauty of Meqheleng ends, however, with the imposing mountains.

Most of the streets, particularly in the old section of Masaleng, where Tatane lived, are unpaved, narrow and pitted with potholes.

Some of the streets have been transformed into rivers of filth, raw sewage overflowing from burst pipes which residents say have not been serviced for years.

The Tatane family home in Masaleng section was one of many whose water supply had been cut off since Tuesday.

In some sections, residents say, the taps have been dry for almost three years. In the mornings scores of residents prowl the streets, carrying an assortment of containers, in search of water.

Even in the town residents complain of constant water outages and electricity trips which damage appliances.

There are hardly any sports facilities, with only one stadium – which is in a state of neglect. An enterprising group of youngsters have found better use for a tennis court which took years to complete – it now serves as a popular car-wash.

There are three public health-care clinics in the township, three high schools, five primary schools and thousands of unemployed youth and adults.

The nearby dorp of Ficksburg, just a 10-minute walk from the township, does not offer much in terms of employment opportunities. It is literally a one-horse town whose only claim to fame is the annual cherry festival.

The town itself looks forgotten, with streets which, though tarred, look to be in dire need of renovation.An influx of people from Lesotho, legal and illegal, has added to the growing frustrations of local residents.

The Basotho citizens, most of whom have relatives in the border town and surrounds, have been blamed for the escalating levels of crime, particularly house-breaking and stock theft.

In their memorandum to the Setsoto Local Municipality this week, residents of Meqheleng called for increased and regular patrols along the Caledon River, citing an influx of criminals from Lesotho.

The township’s streets were transformed into a mini war zone, with mobs of youths facing police rubber bullets and tear gas as they protested against the death of their local hero, Tatane.

However, the youths, in their quest to get officialdom to act on their demands, exacerbated the area’s lack of resources by burning down the home affairs building and library and breaking up roadside barriers to barricade the streets.

By yesterday, however, calm had returned to the township with police Nyalas patrolling streets that still bore the scars of the week’s battle.

But it is not clear if this signals the end of the violent protests here, as some of the youths have threatened another wave of protests ahead of Tatane’s funeral next weekend.

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