‘Why must I vote when I still queue for water?'

Olebogeng Tladi fetches water from a water tanker truck that arrives in Ipelegeng township about twice a week. Picture: Tebogo Letsie/City Press
Olebogeng Tladi fetches water from a water tanker truck that arrives in Ipelegeng township about twice a week. Picture: Tebogo Letsie/City Press

A community in North West heads to the polls this week, but is fed up with politicians’ empty promises.

Residents of the small farming town of Schweizer-Reneke and surrounding areas in the Mamusa Local Municipality, North West, wish that municipal by-elections happened more often.

Service delivery is an irregular occurrence – until by-elections draw closer, as is the case now. Residents head to the polls on Wednesday.

This comes after Mamusa’s municipal council was dissolved about four months ago – for the second time. The first time was in 2004, when conflict arose among council members to the point that administrative processes were seriously affected.

Fifteen years later, parties in Mamusa find themselves at a crossroads once again with the pending election of a new council.

This week, Schweizer-Reneke was abuzz with activity. A truck is clearing one of the many illegal dumping sites in the area – the result of irregular waste collection – potholes are being patched here and there, and the inconsistent delivery of water by water tankers has suddenly become a regular feature across the municipality.

“We have missed all these services for years. Now we are seeing them for only one reason – they want us to vote,” said a resident, who said he was a member of the ANC. “It may be the last time we see this, but we will pray for change as we go and vote. The reason we are having by-elections is that the municipality failed to deliver even the most basic thing – water.”

Walls and street poles around Schweizer-Reneke are plastered with posters advertising political parties’ slogans. Party heavyweights have also descended on the small town, with guest-house owners saying they are fully booked until next week.

Among those who came to campaign for their parties were EFF leader Julius Malema and DA leader John Steenhuisen, as well as former ANC Youth League leaders Malusi Gigaba and Fikile Mbalula.

What went wrong?

The decision to dissolve the Mamusa council came after a request was made in Parliament by the ANC-led North West government late last year.

It cited reasons such as the lack of leadership, which resulted in the municipality having two mayors in the space of a few months last year; division among councillors; disclaimer audit opinions over the past seven years; and allegations of rampant looting of municipal resources by councillors.

Children play in one of the many illegal dumping sites in Ipelegeng township in the Mamusa Local Municipality, whose council has been dissolved – again. Municipal by-elections will take place this week. Picture: Tebogo Letsie/City Press

Kenny Morolong, spokesperson for the ANC’s provincial interim committee, said his party campaigned for the council to be dissolved because of “ill-discipline” among councillors.

“The ANC supported the decision by the provincial government to dissolve the council because of its failure to execute its constitutional mandate,” said Morolong. “We were perturbed by the municipality’s inability to render basic services to our people. It was unacceptable that those deployed by the ANC to serve our people were preoccupied with narrow factional battles and abdicated their oversight responsibilities.”

He said ANC interventions were “met with absolute resistance. Our councillors openly defied the ANC by collaborating with the opposition to collapse the municipality.”

Morolong said ANC campaigners expressed how “appalled” they were about the poor service delivery during their interactions with the community, and noted how people were “battling with basic things such as water, the poor state of the roads and the fact that some of our people reside in incomplete RDP houses”.

Mixed reactions by voters

While many were looking forward to voting for a new council on Wednesday, 27-year-old resident Olebogeng Tladi expressed indifference, saying he had not voted in any election before.

City Press met with Tladi in Ipelegeng township outside Schweizer-Reneke. He was pushing a wheelbarrow loaded with containers after filling them at a designated spot where a water tanker truck was making deliveries to residents – their only way of accessing water for many years now. Residents said water delivery was sporadic and they were sometimes left without the vital resource for more than a week.

Ipelegeng township near Schweize-Reneke has had no running water for years. Picture: Tebogo Letsie/City Press

“Why must I vote when, for years – even after national and local government elections – I still have to queue for water?” said Tladi. “What is there to vote for when many of us young people have lost hope of ever getting jobs and are simply left to marvel at the sight of our politically connected peers driving flashy cars and benefiting from tenders?”

Dornascimento van Coller, a resident in Charona township, said his family had had to deal with sewage spilling into their yard for almost a decade.

“There is a manhole right here in our back yard that is making life unbearable for us – not to mention the smell,” he said, pointing to a manhole cover surrounded by soil rendered green by algae after another flood of sewage.

“It’s a health risk. We have complained to the municipality and have now lost hope. I am an ANC member and these are things that disappoint me the most. They make me realise how my own people have failed me. I cannot blame the organisation, but rather the individuals who are not doing their jobs.

“I am going to vote for change next week in the hope that the next council will do things right.”

Parties ready for Wednesday

The ANC said it was confident it would retain Mamusa and make things right in the community.

Morolong said only two former councillors from the dissolved council were back to contend for seats. The ANC had held 11 of the council’s 18 seats.

DA leader John Steenhuisen on a door to door campaign in Ipelegeng township. Picture: Tebogo Letsie/City Press

The DA, which occupied only one seat in the municipality, was more conservative about its chances in the upcoming by-election.

“We are working on at least winning a ward and a PR seat,” said provincial DA leader Joe McGluwa.

The party blames the ANC for the crisis that has led to the by-election.

“There is no water in this place. People depend on trucks to deliver water, and you’ll find that politicians own these tankers and that the water flow is sometimes sabotaged so they can continue to supply water and make money,” said McGluwa.

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