Battle on for Metsimaholo as by-elections get underway

2017-11-29 08:07
IEC voting station. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

IEC voting station. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Sasolburg – A pungent stench from the pit latrines punctuates the air. The bellowing wind violently sweeps up the dust between the RDP houses.

This is life for the residents of Iraq, in Metsimaholo municipality in the Free State, named at the height of the US invasion of Iraq in the Middle East.

The municipality, which encompasses areas including the towns of Sasolburg and Deneysville and Zamdela township, is up for grabs in by-elections to be held on Wednesday.

The RDP homes in Iraq have built-in toilets but they were not connected to the water supply system nor the sewerage network, rendering them useless.

"They started working on the pipes, then they said the pipes were too small. They got a new contractor but then they did nothing," resident Thandi Nhlapo said.

Only a few households who could afford it have managed to connect their homes and get proper sanitation. For the rest, the toilets inside their houses gather dust while they are forced to dig pit toilets in their yards.

When a hole fills up, another is dug next to it. Residents cannot afford the chemicals that help douse the smell or maintain some level of hygiene in the pit latrines.

Fears over children's safety, health

Resident Makgaugelo Mothafeng says there is no longer space in her backyard.  

"We always have to dig our yards for pit latrines, and now they are full. We just want toilets and proper roads," Mothafeng said.

Nhlapo says they live in fear of their children falling into the holes, as some of the toilets have no doors but only cloths covering the entrance.  

When it rains, she says, the sewage rises to the surface, worsening the stench. She believes the ringworm-like patterns on her son's head are caused by the soil covering the old pit toilets.

"There is a terrible smell, you can imagine the flies coming out of those pit toilets, our children are getting sick," Nhlapo said.

For her, the 12-year battle for flushing toilets is the epitome of broken promises by the ANC government that had been governing the municipality until 2016.

Collapsed municipality

The ANC was ousted after the August 2016 local government elections when the DA, the EFF, the FF Plus and civic organisation Metsimaholo Community Association (MCA) formed a coalition government which elected the MCA's Sello Hlasa as mayor.

But that marriage only lasted a year after the DA accused Hlasa of "selling out to the ANC, by replacing DA mayoral committee members with ANC councillors". The DA and EFF refused to approve the budget, forcing the provincial government to collapse the municipality, resulting in by-elections.

Also read: Maimane urges Metsimaholo community to vote ANC out once and for all

In the 2016 municipal elections, the ANC won 19 seats, the DA 12, the EFF eight, the MCA two and the FF Plus got one. They are now all contesting for 21 wards and 21 proportional representative seats.

As many as 15 political parties are vying for power, including the SACP, which will be contesting elections for the first time in its history. The party decided during its May elective conference to contest state power on its own instead of campaigning for its long-standing alliance partner the ANC.

"No, we are not taking on the ANC. The voter turnout for the ANC has been very low. Many people had not been voting, choosing to stay at home instead. So our concentration is on those people who stayed at home," the SACP's Lindiwe Shongwe said.

The ANC is hoping to return to power in the council as Metsimaholo remains the only municipality in the province outside the party's control. The former mayor has joined the ANC's election machinery.

Hlasa told News24 he expects the ANC to win but not by a landslide.

Litmus test for 2019

The stakes are also high for the EFF as it needs the win to have a governance record.

 "We call on the people of Metsimaholo to consolidate their fight against corruption and making the EFF the majority party in the council," EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi said.

The DA has also sent out its big guns to campaign, hoping to have a municipality in the Free State under its control for the first time to add to the party's governance record.

Provincial chair Patricia Kopane spent days in the area campaigning.

Kopane told News24 that residents had welcomed the party. "It's support we've never had before," she said.

The by-elections are seen as a litmus test ahead of the 2019 elections which are expected to be highly contested.

Election fever has gripped the township of Iraq, with posters on lamp posts and volunteers embarking on door-to-door campaigns.

But for residents like Nhlapo, political parties will have to double their efforts to convince her and others to come out and vote.

"I don't feel like voting, I don't think they have helped us. We live in a dusty township... and you never know if you vote for people if they will deliver on the promises or just chow the money," she said.

The Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa said the number of registered voters in the area had increased from 79 675 in 2016 to 82 666 in 2017.

Read more on:    da  |  anc  |  eff  |  bloemfontein  |  service delivery  |  elections  |  local government

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