Tatane’s hometown finally gets a facelift

2012-11-10 16:34

Change is coming to Meqheleng, writes Lucas Ledwaba

A narrow tarred road from the town of Ficksburg ascends a small hill, where a large rusted signboard welcomes visitors to the township of Meqheleng.

In April last year, the double-storey building perched on the hill was burned down by a crowd of young people protesting against poor service delivery and the killing of community activist Andries Tatane.

Further up this street, the main artery that cuts through the township, a community hall next to a hard-as-nails soccer field was also burnt down. A library in the centre of the township was also among the casualties.

But if you drive on that road today, you will see that the double-storey building that serves as a Home Affairs office is wearing a new coat of paint, new windows and doors.

The community hall near the soccer field is resplendent with new windows and other signs of a serious makeover.

The soccer field has been marked and posts have been erected. If all goes well, residents say, this piece of land could one day reverberate with the echoes of enthusiastic youngsters playing various sports.

A new multi-purpose sports centre is set to be built, replacing the old soccer field.

The library in the centre of the township has also been given a new lease on life, and signs are that, soon, residents may begin the search for wisdom and knowledge in a revamped facility.

It appears that change is finally coming to Meqheleng, the township thrust into the spotlight last year after residents rose up against inept management in the Setsoto Local Municipality.

In a memorandum, the Meqheleng Concerned Citizens group (MCC) complained about the lack of a proper water supply, shocking roads, their bucket toilets, sporadic refuse removal and the raw sewage flooding their streets.

After several violent protests, Free State cooperative governance MEC Mamiki Qabathe set up a team to
probe Meqheleng’s problems.

It found that the water shortage was caused by the simplest of reasons: insufficient water pressure resulting from a project to eradicate bucket toilets.

The projects to eradicate the bucket-toilet system in Meqheleng and three other areas were also far from complete. And consultants working on those Municipal Infrastructure Grant contracts were appointed without following proper tender processes.

Now, MCC spokesperson Sam Motseare acknowledges that there are signs of change in the township. For one thing, the water supply, he says, is much improved.

But residents are worried about the letters of demand they received from the municipality’s law firm, which
is trying to recover more than R300 million in unpaid rates and services.

Motseare says: “We do not agree with this. People were not paying for services because they were not being provided with services. That was our position and we still maintain that people cannot be asked to pay for a service they did not receive.”

Motseare, a local primary school teacher, also received a letter.

Like many of his neighbours, he stopped paying for services in 2009 in protest against poor service delivery.

The MCC is calling for the scrapping of the huge rates bill, but the Setsoto Local Municipality has indicated
that it will not bend on this one.

Motseare says services like refuse collection have improved, and the great stink caused by blocked sewage lines is slowly disappearing.

The police and army, he says, have stepped up patrols along the porous Lesotho border at the edge of the township. Locals have blamed Lesotho citizens for a spate of house breakings and muggings there.

A drive through the township streets reveals enthusiastic teams of workers, part of the Extended Public Works Programme, cleaning up piles of rubbish on street corners.

But while there are obvious signs of change, it is also apparent that there is a long road ahead. In other parts of the township, residents still complain of sewage blockages and the ­bucket-toilet system.

Also, off-road rally enthusiasts would relish a drive through some of Meqheleng’s streets.

It takes the skill of a rally driver to negotiate the narrow drive leading to Tatane’s home in Masaleng Section.

When it rains, the streets become impassable, soggy marshes. The one leading to Refiloe Mashetla’s home in
Zone 8, Katlehong Section, is no different.

A fierce storm raged through Ficksburg the night before we visited. Until a few months ago, this would spell serious trouble for the Mashetla household.

Unlike neighbouring farmers along the Caledon River who welcome a downpour, the Mashetlas cringed at the sight of grey clouds that signalled another battle against the raw sewage that spilled on to their yard daily.

A pool of sickening sludge would collect and the yard would be completely flooded with excrement, used toilet paper, used condoms and soiled nappies, thanks to the nearby blocked sewer drain.

Mashetla had to wear gumboots to walk through her garden and routinely shovelled soil into a dyke to stop the filth from overwhelming them.

She says: “I can now even have a braai here. Life has become normal again after the hell we have been through.”

The manhole that caused all the trouble has been fixed. But she hasn’t thrown away her boots, just in case ...

Wanted: Unofficial mayor

Do you love Ficksburg? City Press needs a smart, curious and passionate resident of the Setsoto Local Municipality to become the town’s unofficial mayor.

The job entails monitoring the municipality’s mayor and councillors to ensure that the promises they make during elections are kept.

The successful candidate will also keep an eye on service delivery progress and inform the City Press newsdesk about what is happening in the area.

This position won’t earn you a salary. However, you will receive a BlackBerry smartphone to record the goings-on in the town and do interviews with your neighbours on issues affecting their daily lives.

To apply for the position, send a 250-word motivation on why you would be the best person for the job of Fickburg’s unofficial mayor, your telephone number, ID number and a short CV to nicki.gules@citypress.co.za, or a fax to 011 713 9966.

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