Vuwani unrest, VBS scandal, ethnic tensions weigh on minds of Limpopo voters

Jossey Buthane
Jossey Buthane

Ethnic tensions, demarcation and VBS among hot issues in Limpopo

Financial scandals at the now-defunct VBS Mutual Bank, long-standing tribal issues, and unrest in Vuwani and Modimolle-Mookgophong local municipality are matters confronting potential voters in Limpopo.

Modimolle-Mookgophong is the only DA-controlled municipality in the province.

Until now Limpopo has been regarded as the home of the ANC.

The province played a key role in ensuring the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as ANC president at the party’s national elective conference in Nasrec in 2017.

There is even talk – though premature – that the province will be a launching pad for Ramaphosa’s second term as ANC president.

Limpopo is Ramaphosa’s ancestral home and he is often referred as the “son of the soil” whenever he visits.

The unresolved Vuwani headache

It is a gloomy Tuesday afternoon in the Vuwani area, which has been fighting against demarcation and demands to be placed back under the Makhado municipality.

Vuwani has remained volatile since residents first went on the rampage in 2016, demanding the demarcation board reverse its decision to incorporate the area into the nearby Collins Chabane municipality in Malamulele.

Years later the residents led by the pro-Makhado task team, are still fighting to be part of the Makhado municipality.

Driving through Vuwani one notices piles of uncollected rubbish bags at streets corners.

Some gravel roads in the area are rocky and it is clear they become impassable when it rains.

Word doing the rounds is that Collins Chabane municipality has been refused by the pro-Makhado group to provide services to Vuwani residents because they don’t want to be part of it.

On a positive note, a water pipe is being constructed for villages in the area by the Vhembe district municipality.

There is no visible excitement about next month’s polls. Party election posters have been torn down, allegedly by the pro-Makhado group.

The pro-Makhado group is boycotting the election because it wants the area to be returned to the Makhado municipality.

Residents are divided over whether they should vote in the election.

*Patricia Chauke (28) was surprised when asked if she was going to vote.

“How do we vote when we have not registered? The IEC [Independent Electoral Commission] was supposed to come and register us. We are still waiting for the IEC.”

Chauke said she had not voted in her life.

“I feel like a foreigner in my own country. I think we should be allowed to participate in the elections.”

But Graheim Ngobeni (25) said residents had been told by the pro-Makhado group not to participate in the elections.

“We have been told that we are not going to vote. I am not going to vote because I don’t know what will happen to me or my family if I defy them,” he said, while puffing on a cigarette.

In Vyeboom village, next to the town of Vuwani, we meet *Sam Mukondeli (28), who said the pro-Makhado group had not given the community any proper explanation about why they should not vote.

“We as the community want to vote. We have that spirit of voting. Voting is important to us. After elections there is a change.”

He said the last time the pro-Makhado group consulted them was in 2016.

“They have previously consulted us through mass meetings. This time around they are not even consulting us,” Mukondeli said.

“That is why we are saying we are going to vote because we have not been told or consulted that we are not going to vote.”

A traditional leader from Vyeboom village, Musanda Makhado, appeared surprised about the fuss over whether residents should vote or not.

“I want to vote for the president so that the issue of demarcation can be resolved. We are not voting for the local municipality,” he said.

Makhado, who was fetching kids from a crèche in the area in his old battered white Nissan 1400, which has seen better days, said he had encouraged his subjects to vote in the election.

A member of the pro-Makhado group said the decision to boycott the election was being imposed on the community.

“The feeling on the ground is that people want to vote but those in the leadership are saying no.

“There is no more proper engagement and consultation between the leadership and the constituency.

“Some members of the community are asking why they are not voting. Who are you going to call after May 8?”

IEC worries

City Press has learnt that the pro-Makhado group prevented the IEC from using schools in the Vuwani area during the registration period.

As a result, in some areas they registered only 40 voters. The IEC said there were three areas where not a single person registered to vote.

The number of voters in the Vuwani area registered to vote next month is estimated to be only 800.

Voting stations in Vuwani featured high on the list of 650 hot spots countrywide during the municipal elections in 2016.

Limpopo electoral officer Nkaro Mateta said school principals were being intimidated.

“They would always say please go and talk to the task team. Schools can’t be controlled by some task team.

“We should talk to the school governing body and not a task team. The governing body is governor of that particular school and it should have a say on whether elections will happen in that school or not.”

However, Arnold Mulaudzi, the pro-Makhado group deputy chairperson, gave the IEC a middle figure, saying the schools in Vuwani were built by their parents.

Mulaudzi said: “Those are our schools. Even those schools which were burnt during the election were built by communities.

“The community felt that since we are not participating in this election we will just have to keep our churches and schools closed.”

He said by giving the IEC accommodation it would mean that the commission was welcome in the area.

“They are not welcome. Our wish is that they don’t even have to pitch here during election day.”

ANC Vhembe regional secretary Anderson Mudunungu said the stance taken by the pro-Makhado group to boycott elections amounted to “foolishness”.

“People love their president comrade [Cyril] Ramaphosa and they want to vote for him. They are fooling themselves. We are going to campaign.

“Demarcation issues are issues that should be corrected by the government.

“If they don’t want to vote, who is going to fix their issues?”

He said Vuwani residents were now writing to Collins Chabane municipality demanding services.

“The place has become filthy and there are children and old people,” Mudunungu said.

Another concern for the IEC was that communities in Mokopane, Moletsi, Makotopong and Tubatse had also threatened to boycott the elections.

Communities there were enraged because they said the government had failed to fulfil promises made last time around.

“We have explained to them whatever issues they want to raise they must direct them to the relevant government departments. The IEC is just here to promote democracy and run elections,” Mateta said.

She warned that unless the government acted on some of the things that communities were raising, the IEC would not be able to run free and fair elections.

“There will be threats on the ground and people might not fully participate in elections. Please communicate with these communities and advise them when they should expect that road or water.”

Thirty-four political parties are contesting in the Limpopo province compared with 20 parties which contested in the last election.

VBS scandal

About 40km from Vuwani lies Thohoyandou in the Thulamela municipality where VBS had most clients.

A security guard at the VBS branch in Thohoyandou told City Press that clients still visited the bank.

“Some come to pay their bonds and for their cars,” he said.

When City Press visited the branch there was just one consultant helping a couple. The ATM machines were not working.

A VBS minority shareholders’ forum convened a meeting at the Thohoyandou-based Black Leopards FC offices to discuss how to recover the funds from the collapsed bank.

The meeting, which lasted for more than three hours, was attended mostly by the elderly. Many of them said they had invested funds ranging from R10 000 to R10 million.

One of the clients, who referred to herself only as Mummy, said she invested R500 000 with the bank but got out only R100 000.

She said she would still vote for the ANC whether they recovered their monies or not.

“The ANC is our organisation. It is the organisation of Nelson Mandela. What if we vote for other sharks and they come and steal our money?”

Another client said many people had lost interest in the election.

“We feel let down by the ANC. Up until today those who have stolen our money have not been arrested,” the client said.

Last month creditors submitted their claims to the Master of the High Court in Polokwane in a bid to recover money owed to them.

This came after the SA Reserve Bank’s Prudential Regulation Authority had issued an application in the Pretoria High Court for VBS to be finally wound up in November last year.

VBS was placed under curatorship on March this year because of a serious “liquidity crisis”. The initial findings of the curator revealed significant financial losses in VBS.

VBS minority shareholders’ forum chairperson Aubrey Mulaudzi said they wanted an independent liquidator to be appointed.

“The curator with the Reserve Bank wanted to appoint the same curator who was doing curatorship in the bank. We disagreed with them. He can’t be a referee and a player. We say he can’t be a curator and a liquidator,” Mulaudzi said.

The forum had appointed lawyers to represent it in the VBS fight in court.

The Prudential Regulation Authority was said to favour Anoosh Rooplal, who led the VBS curatorship to be appointed as a liquidator.

The collapse of VBS had a devastating effect on poor rural communities. Now, there were fears in the ANC ranks that the VBS scandal might harm the party at the polls.

Matome Moremi, ANC Youth League deputy provincial secretary, admitted that the scandal had caused huge damage to the ANC.

“We must not underestimate it and think it will not matter. But we made some strides to try to correct it in the ANC. We have fired people,” he said.

The youth league in the province was the first to call for action against ANC leaders implicated in the VBS scandal.

Moremi said it was possible that voters would think about how they lost their money before they cast their votes.

“It has affected our voters. These are the people who are supposed to vote for the ANC.”

Tribalism fear

The province has always had undercurrents of tribalism between the Pedi-, Venda- and Tsonga ethnic groups.

Before the first democratic general elections in 1994, the province included the Lebowa, Venda and Gazankulu homelands, which were designed along ethnicity.

When the ANC came into power, it tried to unify the province.

But, a new wave of tribalism was brewing, some of it blamed on the new municipal demarcations.

The call for a female premier to replace the incumbent Stanley Mathabatha had also heightened tribal divisions, with those supporting former Vhembe district mayor Florence Radzilani, arguing that the province had not had a Venda premier.

Mathabatha said whether a premier was Pedi, Venda or Tsonga mattered to some people.

“To me it does not. But, to some people it does. I don’t know why. I feel that you need to appoint a person as a premier if that person has got the necessary credentials,” Mathabatha told City Press.

He said ethnicity was a social problem not only in the province but internationally.

ANC Youth League deputy provincial secretary Moremi echoed similar sentiments, saying: “It does not matter to us whether a premier is a Pedi, Tsonga or Venda as long as it is a capable person who can take the province forward.”

The youth league had resolved that Mathabatha continue as the premier after the election.

Moremi said: “This is so that we are able to groom nicely any other successor regardless whether that person is a womanor Pedi. He had to correct many things that were wrong whenhe got in.”

The DA-led coalition

The DA-led Modimolle/Mookgophong municipality, which was placed under administration by the provincial government last year because it was technically bankrupt, was spending close to R16 million on salaries a month.

It had been governed by coalition governments since the ANC failed to get 50% in the municipal elections in 2016.

The DA, with the EFF and the Freedom Front Plus, voted for a DA mayor, Marlene van Staden.

The municipality’s financial woes were compounded by the fact that when Modimolle and Mookgophong municipalities were amalgamated after municipal elections, some positions were duplicated.

In the beginning the Modimolle/Mookgophong municipality had two municipal managers, a pair of chief financial officers and many technical managers.

This meant that the municipality had to pay twice for the same position.

Van Staden told City Press that the resultant huge salary bill had put a financial burden on the municipality.

“I say in every meeting for all the needs that you guys are listing I wish I had money. I had to prioritise basic things.

“My largest expense in the municipality was salaries. People get angry when they hear that we have a very large salary bill.

“The two former municipalities each had a full staff complement and they were just amalgamated to one municipality. We are not allowed to retrench anybody. No salaries were decreased. We were double parked in nearly all our positions,” she said.

“I don’t how many municipalities in South Africa have money. But we are definitely not one of them. We are struggling.”

Although coalition governments had never been perfect, Van Staden said, political parties had decided to put politics aside and deliver basic services to the people.

The DA had often been criticised for forming a coalition with the EFF. There was an ideological chasm – including the expropriation of land without compensation – between the two parties.

Van Staden said: “Once you are here you are actually not here for politics. You are actually just here for basic service delivery.

“We are supposed to give people water, electricity, pick up rubbish, clean parks and things like that. We are not supposed to be playing politics.”

She asserted that EFF councillors stayed with the people and knew when there were water and electricity problems.

Continuing the fight

In extension 12, an informal settlement which the EFF claimed it had created, residents complained about lack of water, electricity, roads and jobs.

Several residents told City Press that EFF leader Julius Malema was the only leader who could take them to a place of “honey and milk”.

Maria Matlatsi (49) called on Malema to continue fighting for them.

“Initially the ANC wanted to sell stands for us here. We were elated when EFF leaders told us to come and stay here for free,” said Matlatsi, who works as a security guard.

EFF provincial chairperson Jossey Buthane said the party had stood by its actions, words and commitments.

“We said that we will give people land and we have given some a portion of land,” Buthane said.

“People are staying in Malema View in Bela-Bela, extension 12 in Modimolle and some other parts of the province. That is because of the EFF contribution. That we have done without us being in government.”

Buthane said: “Here in Limpopo when people are in trouble they come to the EFF. We have done our part. It is now left to the citizens of Limpopo to play their part properly in the general elections next month. If they don’t play it properly they must not cry.

*Not their real names


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