In late 2020, residents from Makwarani village, weary of government’s failures, decided to come together and pave a 2.4km stretch of a road connecting them to the outside world.
“There was a time when we knew that nobody could leave or get into the village when it rained. People missed job interviews and others could not get to work because no cars could pass through the village,” says Pfano Lithudzha, one of the young people who worked on the project.
Makwarani is in the Thulamela Local Municipality in Limpopo, one of four local municipalities that make up the Vhembe District Municipality.
According to Stats SA, data from the 2011 census showed that the village had 249 households, none of which was connected to running water or sewerage systems. It also had a dependency ration of 78.4%. This refers to age population ratio (zero to 14 and 65 or older) of those typically not in the labour force.
The village is connected to the rest of the province via the D3688 road, an axle-breaking dirt road that comes off the R523 and meanders through precarious gorges.
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The nearest commercial centre, Thohoyandou, is about 27km away, but the journey there takes more than an hour because of the atrocious state of the road. A single trip by taxi costs R32, and it can take you an entire day to return home, due to the poor travelling conditions.
During the rainy season, the road turned into a soggy, slippery wasteland in some parts, trapping the villagers in Makwarani and making it impossible to access services.
“The department of home affairs could not come here. Ambulances still don’t come here. Buses got stuck. We have lost so many cars on this road,” says Takalani Muligidi, one of the villagers.
In a bid to get the authorities to improve the road, residents from Makwarani and five other villages along the road came together and hired taxis to ferry representatives who stagedsit-ins at the provincial government offices in Polokwane, about 200km away.
But, after numerous such protests failed to yield results, community members decided to take matters into their own hands.
“We got tired of hiring taxis and going to government offices to ask the officials to fix our road,” says Alilali Singo, the leader of the women’s branch in the project.
The villagers agreed to contribute R100 per household to buy cement and concrete to fix the most troublesome parts of the road.
“Some families could not contribute the money because of poverty. People are unemployed and many rely on social grants. But we all agreed to do something [to fix the road],” says Muligidi.
Those who could not contribute financially made up for this with their labour. In total, the residents contributed R65 000, says another resident, Albert Madadzhe.
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After purchasing the required materials, work started in earnest. Men, women and young people showed up with their own tools. Cement, concrete and water met with the enthusiastic hands of the residents, eager to better their living conditions.
“We were united. We would leave our house chores and go to the site very early in the morning. We had faith that we would succeed. We were singing while we worked. Some motorists stopped to give us food, some gave us cash donations. Others even drove all the way to Thohoyandou to buy us food and groceries. That made us even stronger,” Singo recalls.
“There was no man, there was no woman; we all worked together,” she says.
The youngsters, spurred on by the enthusiasm of their elders, worked hard too.
After a month of back-breaking toil from as early as 7am until 4pm on weekdays, the villagers had completed 2.4km of paving a two-vehicle path in different sections of the road.
“We felt good when we completed the work,” says Singo.
Even though Limpopo Premier Stan Mathabatha, in his state of the province address last year, mentioned that the rehabilitation of the D3688 road was “100% complete”, it remains in a terrible state.
But, at least for now, thanks to their own hard work, the villagers are no longer trapped when it rains.
Last month, a contractor started working to improve the condition of the road. Locals have found temporary work and the village is a hive of activity, with trucks, graders and workers busy on the project.
“[Finally,] our government has listened to our concerns. We did no such thing [as violently protesting]. We sat around the table and decided to do something. It has taken some time, but at least it looks like our government has listened to us. That is why we see this project here now,” says Muligidi.
The villagers acknowledge that the work they did was not perfect, as they did not have the expertise that a government-sanctioned project would have come with, but it is a solution to a problem that seriously affected their lives.
“When a woman needed to get to a clinic to deliver a baby, they could not. Ambulances do not come here because of the state of the road. Even if we got someone with a car to drive a woman to hospital, they could not come into the village. Now, at least we no longer have such problems,” says Singo. – Mukurukuru Media.