Tatane Project: Balfour still boiling

2015-04-19 15:00

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Free government houses are sprouting up in Thembalethu, east of the Mpumalanga town of Balfour, turning what was once a squatter camp into a township.

The developing Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) settlement is a noticeable change since City Press visited Thembalethu in the Dipaleseng Local Municipality 11 months ago.

The houses are at different stages of completion: some are being roofed while others are at foundation level.

The Mpumalanga human settlements department is building about 200 houses, but local residents say this is only the second project they have seen being implemented since President Jacob Zuma promised them heaven and earth five years ago.

The tarring of a few streets inside the township has been the other visible change since City Press’ first visit in 2011.

Now, the locals say the RDP development in ward 4, which was won by an independent candidate after the 2011 local government elections, is an ANC election gimmick to reclaim the ward in 2016.

“These RDP houses are just another attempt to win votes,” said Lucia*, an ANC member who lives in Thembalethu and works for the Dipaleseng municipality.

Bafana Shongwe, an Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF) sub-regional chairperson, agreed.

“They’re pushing hard on the RDP houses because of the 2016 elections. Remember, the ANC lost two wards in the last local government elections to independent candidates.

“Before the [2014] general elections, they were promising a lot but failed to deliver what they promised back in 2010. This government is taking Dipaleseng people for granted,” Shongwe said.

But Dipaleseng municipal manager Vusi Ngcobo denied that the elections had anything to do with the project.

“The problem is that some community members like politicising issues. We’re improving. The RDP units were allocated at provincial level and all councillors made a decision how this would be apportioned among the wards. Ward 14 is an informal settlement with a housing backlog, hence the decision to build there.

“We do have challenges but it’s wrong to say nothing has been done since the president came here. A presidential team comes here quarterly and it gets progress reports,” Ngcobo said.

The EFF, seen in the area as a huge threat to the ruling party’s dominance last year, apparently spurred the ANC’s Gert Sibande region to promise more to residents in its manifesto for Dipaleseng.

The promises included:

.?An increase in the capacity of water reservoirs to ensure access to every household;

.?The creation of jobs through relationships with the business sector, implementation and maintenance of infrastructure projects, pothole patching and roll-out of the expanded public works programme;

.?Extension of electricity supply and sanitation to more households;

.?Construction of recreational parks;

.?Tabling of credible integrated development plans and budget;

.?Improvement of revenue-collection and billing system; and

.?Introduction of a performance assessment system for Dipaleseng employees and measures to achieve a clean audit.

“The manifesto promised a lot,” Lucia said. “But none of the projects has been implemented.”

Zuma’s government seemed prepared to tackle all backlogs head-on when Thembalethu residents staged violent protests in 2009 and 2010.

The intensity of protests nudged Zuma and his retinue of national and provincial politicians to descend on Dipaleseng to placate residents.

But erratic water supply, and lack of sanitation and electricity in some sections of Thembalethu are nagging problems the government is – five years later – still failing to address. A police station, recreational parks and a college have also still not been built. However, these demands were not at the top of the residents’ list of priorities.

First and foremost, they wanted the Dipaleseng municipal area to be re-demarcated into Gauteng and government assured them it would do so.

The residents motivated by saying they were much closer to Gauteng. Most work in Gauteng, where they also receive most of their government services.

The nearest hospital is 20km away in Heidelberg, Gauteng, while the Mpumalanga hospital they have to use is 80?km away in Standerton.

The re-demarcation is a combustible issue once again.

Thembalethu residents torched Mayor Sarah Nhlapho’s house on March 12 and the SA Social Security Agency as well as the multi-purpose centre offices were vandalised following the ANC’s new proposal to amalgamate Dipaleseng with the Lekwa municipality in Standerton, widely regarded as the province’s worst municipality.

During a meeting after the recent protest, MEC of safety and security Vusi Shongwe and the Gert Sibande ANC again promised residents they would move to Gauteng.

But it has not just been residents who have taken to the streets. Members of the SA Municipal Workers’ Union have also protested against the municipality’s management of corruption.

“Dipaleseng,” said Lucia, “is a dysfunctional institution that fails to deliver services but, no, it can’t be put under administration because of the coming local government elections.”

Another ANC ally, the SA National Civics Organisation (Sanco), is also breaking ranks with its partner over water provision – the residents’ second-highest ranked demand.

Sanco member Thulani Mngomezulu, said: “The community wants to toyi-toyi, but that won’t help anymore. We’ve vandalised many things and the next thing will be what? … Our ancestors’ graves?

“Next year is another election and when they get government positions we’ll hear more promises.

“Water does not reach other areas and in some areas it’s dirty. We’ve tried everything as Sanco to communicate with government but there has been no response.”

City Press went to resident Ivana Mngomezulu’s house and found her tap dry.

“We get water at 2am and by 4am it stops coming out. We’re voting but there’s no progress in the way they do things. They will come back next year with their nonsensical promises again,” she said.

Peace has been restored in Dipaleseng since Shongwe’s promise and it may last – as long as the government does re-demarcate the municipality into Gauteng.

* Not her real name

The municipal manager responds:

Dipaleseng municipal manager Vusi Ngcobo responds to what the residents have to say.


The municipality has asked Rand Water to help fix the problem of high-lying areas struggling to get a regular water supply.

Premier David Mabuza appointed Rand Water to deal with Mpumalanga’s water shortages and municipalities are now required to spend 75% of their capital budget on sanitation.

“We’ve bought JoJo tanks to be placed at strategic places in the meantime,” Ngcobo said.


A new sewer plant worth R80?million has to be built, but the municipality does not have the money. Ngcobo said Rand Water promised to help raise the funds. “We just have 14 households that still use the bucket system and we’ve a few sanitation cases in the farming areas. The issue of the sewer plant is being addressed,” he said.


The municipality has reduced its debt from R23?million to just under R10?million, according to Ngcobo.

Eskom debt alone, he said, had initially stood at R13?million.

Ngcobo said Dipaleseng was no longer required to attend meetings with a task team that the Mpumalanga department of co-operative governance and traditional affairs established to look into the Eskom debt because they have a good plan.


The municipality has improved its financial controls from a qualified audit from the Auditor General to an unqualified audit report.

The Mpumalanga treasury has allocated R5?million and appointed PriceWaterhouseCoopers to help Dipaleseng set up a performance management system, and beef up its supply chain unit and audit committee.

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