[intro]As the local government elections approach, journalism students from the universities of Free State and Johannesburg have taken time out to connect with their roots and take a deeper look at the state of affairs in their respective communities. Linda Fekisi, from Sterkspruit in the Eastern Cape, reflects.[/intro]
The place I call home is Sterkspruit, a small rural town covered by magnificent mountains in the Eastern Cape. Sterkspruit is located in the Senqu Local Municipality of the Joe Gqabi District Municipality. It also happens to be a border town. It touches on three borders : the Eastern Cape, the Free State and the Kingdom of Lesotho. It made sense for me to study at the University of the Free State because it was close to home.
I grew up in a village called Tienbank, demarcated as Ward 10 which is made up of three villages and the town itself. The estimated population is 6 387 and the ward is led by the ANC. The main indigenous language spoken here is isiXhosa followed by Sesotho.
Our village is a village like any other. Our yards are relatively large, most of us keep vegetable gardens and tend to live stock ourselves. This is where I got scars while playing on the gravel road, this is where I learned my isiXhosa clicks and where I admired the bright stars in the dark night sky and dreamt of life outside my small comfort zone.
My hometown made national headlines because of municipal protests which broke out in early 2013.The people wanted a stand alone municipality and still do. Talks with the authorities went nowhere, property was damaged and the town shut down. The protest continued well into 2014 before the national elections. Government officials, however, managed to stabilise the situation and the elections went ahead. The driving force behind the pursuit of a stand alone municipality is that Sterkspruit, which is made up of 88 villages, holds the largest population within the Senqu Municipality. The other two towns, Lady Grey and Barkley East, hold a single ward each with the latest demarcation for the upcoming elections.
At the time, my five-year-old nephew, took to imitating the protestors. He’d sing the songs, attempt to do the dances and he would repeat almost every demand he remembered. His theatrics and the burning issues behind them, somehow triggered my interest on the pace of service delivery in Ward 10.
I set up a meeting with the local councillor, Pastor Simon Mfisa. We meet a day after the 40th year commemoration of the 1976 Soweto Uprisings. We end up, coincidentally, having our conversation close to the memorial statue of Mapetla Mohapi, a Sterkspruit born struggle hero who died in detention in 1976.
Our councillor is exactly as my parents described him. He is a tall man with a very charismatic personality and transparent character. Mfisa is originally from a small town situated on the Mokolo River in the Limpopo province known as Vaalwater. He relocated to Sterkspruit in 2000 to establish a church, Light of the World Ministries. The ANC recruited him and he became ward councillor since 2011. He has agreed to stand again for this term. “It was not an easy decision. Being a pastor and now going full time into politics but I agreed because they saw my ability to work with people,” he said.
He does not hesitate to share his service delivery report of the work he has done since he has come into office. These range from extending water plants, electrifying households, providing housing in the form of RDPs, sanitation and the construction of one of the “best” taxi ranks in the province. The municipality, together with the Department of recreation, arts and culture have built a library to the worth of R11 million.
“As we speak we have just finished registering 2000 people who will be receiving RDP houses in Ward 10. Before the end of July we are going to start paving two roads in Tienbank. Other upcoming projects include an indoor sports centre.”
The municipality also created a project called Vatvat to increase employment in the area. “We’ve managed to employ 512 people since 2011. We also request each and every contractor who gets a tender here to employ people from the community. Last year there were over 200 jobs created from this.”
These achievements and developments, however, do not deter him from sharing the challenges he faces and where he has failed to deliver. Despite the fact that he is not directly challenged by the birth of the Sterkspruit Civic Association, he mentions how its presence divides the support he has within his ward. He also shares how the damages caused by municipal protests have cost the municipality money to repair and rebuild.
“A challenge is that Sterkspruit is a town and it also is largely remote. We don’t have a tar road on all our roads. We just grade the roads, within weeks, the rain comes and the road will go back to square one. This is why we are attempting to pave as many roads as possible. The town also needs its own testing grounds.
Another challenge we are facing is the contractor who builds the toilets. In some villages they just dig a hole and leave without finishing. Without even covering the holes and children are falling into those holes. Other toilets are erected and not completed because of contractual problems.”
The municipality recently scooped a few awards at the recent provincial municipal awards. “Our municipality received a Vuna Award from being cleanest municipality in the province. We also received a 2nd place award, as the Senqu municipality, in the entire country. Again, we have also achieved a second clean audit. That shows we can deal with finances and service delivery matters.
Our town has a lot of potential. We need investors and developers to come in,” he said.
According to Mfisa, the voter registration turn out has been very positive. “I think we have got a 93% voter registration turnout.”
My parents hold our councillor in high esteem. They describe him as a leader who is visible, approachable and one who is always willing to assist his people. They also add that he is transparent and had done a lot for the community in the past five years.
The ANC has been a stronghold in my ward, especially at the voting station in Tienbank. It led the pack with over 70 % of the votes in the last provincial and national elections with 71.66 % and 76. 88 % of the votes respectively. The EFF (7.6% and 8.3%), DA (6.16 and 6.76 %) followed suit in second and third place.
The arrival of the Sterkspruit Civic Association introduces an unknown factor and could shake up old certainties. I say this because for the first time, in democratic South Africa, some residents have formed their own party that will contest municipal elections. Many of them were once ANC loyalists and they have quite a strong support base. This was clearly visible when they launched their elections manifesto. Will they manage to snatch votes from the ANC, the EFF and the DA?
On my mind is the famous Xhosa idiom, kazi iyozala nkomoni? What will be the outcome of events? What will these elections bring?
What is certain is that Ward 10 will be buzzing with activities on elections day on August 3, 2016. Perhaps my nephew who is eight-years old now, will again imitate the goings-on and keep my family amused.