No houses, no jobs, brown water

2012-03-31 15:58

Blind Johan Sibaya sits facing his shack as if he can see it.

The 55-year-old hopes that government will unravel a bureaucratic scramble that has prevented him from being given a ­low-cost ­government house.

It has been a five-year wait for him and his mentally disabled wife in their shack in Siyathemba ­Extension 5 near Balfour. The ­Dipaleseng municipality has sent him from pillar to post.

“There are people who registered for houses after me and they have been sorted. Mine was built on another person’s stand and the municipality hasn’t been willing to fix their mess. Is it because I’m blind?” Sibaya asks.

Lettie Lukhele (75) also lives with her family in a shack at ­Nkanini section.
“I’ve been registering for an RDP house for a long time. All I’ve been getting are empty promises.”

Since they began a series of violent protests in 2009 and 2010, ­Dipaleseng residents still hope to receive basic services and see their living conditions improve.

After the protests, national, ­provincial and local government pledged to work together to accelerate service delivery in the area. But little has changed in Siyathemba since then – and since City Press visited last October.

The tar roads winding through the township are still marked by gaping potholes. Some parts of the streets are paved, but the work looks a little haphazard and un­even. Other roads have been graded but have yet to be tarred.

Water and electricity outages are commonplace. When water returns, it comes out of the taps looking brownish and has to be kept in containers for a while for the muddy residue to sink to the bottom before it can be used.
Shacks are sprouting in open spaces as residents invade the land unrestrained. They say the municipality is not making enough stands available.

Problems abound with the construction of low-cost houses, with Sibaya and others continuing to face problems with no assistance from the council. Some of the houses are still shells with no internal walls; elsewhere, concrete foundations have been abandoned by contractors.

The soccer stadium – where former cooperative governance minister Sicelo Shiceka addressed the people during the violence of February 2010 – is an unkempt ­eyesore. The library, burnt down at the time, is yet to be rebuilt. Streets still teem with unemployed youngsters who spend time smoking on ­corners.

After the protests, a number of complaints of maladministration and poor governance by municipal officials and their counterparts in the provincial government were lodged at the office of Public Protector Thuli Madonsela.

Her 18-month investigation found that Dipaleseng’s finance staff and other senior officials were guilty of severe maladministration – including the municipality’s failure to recover debt and collect revenue, and their failure to prepare and implement the Integrated Development Plan. Former municipal manager Pat Malebye failed to report alleged credit note fraud of R1.5 million to the police, as well as claims that councillors were stealing electricity.

During City Press’s visit to the area last week, a downpour resulted in a river of muddy water flowing down the streets. School children held their shoes in their hands and waded through as they made their way home. Why? The roads have no storm water drains.

Bongani Hadebe (28), an unemployed local who joined his friends at the shopping centre for a smoke and to pass the time, grumbled nonstop in tsotsitaal. The qualified crane rigger is jobless and neither his nor his friends’ lives have changed.

“Look at this guy,” Hadebe abruptly stops his service delivery lament as a black BMW with Limpopo registration plates passes. His friends turn their heads and gawk.

“He’s from Limpopo and works at the mine,” he said, referring to the nearby Burnstone Gold Mine.
“This is what I’m talking about, groot (big) man. We’re from this township but don’t get the jobs when opportunities open up here. They employ outsiders all the time.”

But a five-minute drive away in Balfour, the Dipaleseng municipal employees and other middle-class residents who live there experience a different reality. They may gripe about power outages, faulty street lights and incorrect bills, but they also have good things to report. Although some of the streets fronting their green lawns and flower beds are not tarred, they are gravelled and maintained.

Deputy principal of Balfour ­Primary School Thabo Pole said: “The council deserves a pat on the back for providing water. Refuse is also collected on time.

“We do have our own problems here even though they can’t be the same as in Siyathemba. Some of the street lights have been dead for some time and they’re not being fixed. The billing system is also a problem as we’re overcharged,” Pole says.

Back in Siyathemba, there are a few changes, what Madonsela ­described in her report as a ­“glimmer of hope”.

These include a new Home ­Affairs office, functional disaster management centre and a new taxi rank. A police station will be built in the township and the one in town is set to be improved. In addition, the road linking Balfour and Siya­themba has been fixed.

But best of all for residents, the Municipal Demarcation Board is looking into placing Balfour in Gauteng, which they have ­demanded. However, most of those improvements were carried out by national government.

No municipal projects from the council of new mayor Sarah Nhlapho have been started since they took office in May last year. They appear to have forgotten about the irritable and unemployed teenagers on their doorstep.

As thing stand now, when we ­return to Dipaleseng, we will ­probably find Sibaya where we found him this time: in front of his shack.

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