[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. Magnificent Mndebele, of Thokozani Village, Mpumalanga, reflects.[/intro]

I grew up in the far eastern side of Mpumalanga, closer to Swaziland’s Nerston border. My name is Magnificent Mndebele and Thokozani village is a place I call home yet there is barely nothing magnificent about it. It is just a small village which has about 200 dwellings but its scandals far exceed its actual geographic landscape. Some include witchcraft magic, malevolencies, alcoholism, school dropouts and teenage pregnancies.

Here at Thokozani I live in a seven-bedroomed house with my dearest grandmother, Julia Gwebu. Gogo is the head at home since my grandpa died when I was in Grade 2. My mother is a twin, so I also live with her twin sister, Thandi Mndebele, and her children. Our house is built of mud, just like many of the other dwellings around, but there are also dwellings which have been constructed with bricks. My village has only four shops which sell hand-portable items. Ever since its establishment, there has never been a shop that primarily sells vegetables. With a few other villages, Thokozani falls within Ward 19 under Mkhondo municipality.

Thokozani Village alone has a population of about 1000 people. For income, most of those people are heavily dependent on social grants and toiling in the forests. Only three people, Bheki Maseko, Nkosana Maseko and Hlubi Nkosi hold governmental and professional positions. Most villagers are either unemployed or exploited workers in the forest industries.

The majority of school-goers normally end up dropping out in Grade 11. It may sound like a joke, but it is true that currently there are only 20 learners in matric. The science stream is feared and most learners crowd themselves into tourism and history. I faced many hurdles in high school. There was one library in the village with two computers for all learners.

During apartheid, there was no school in my village. Now there is one that ends in Grade 9. I went to town to study after that. There are learners who also come from town to study here. But now its classes are being extended to add more grades. Learner numbers have increased since the village has grown by at least 30 percent. Besides this, nothing else has changed much. There is no household with a tap indoors. The entire village relies on public taps that were installed in 2014. Survival in my village is very difficult because at a time water would run out placing huge pressure on the elderly. People are then compelled to drink water from the river.

Our councillor in Ward 19 is Eric Phakathi and he grew up here too. His home is also built of mud like my home and other dwellings. He does not have any degree nor diploma since he did not have the opportunity to further his studies.

Mr Phakathi hasn’t been reinstated for the upcoming elections because he could not better his community.

Dudu Ngobese will be replacing Eric Phakathi. She was once a councillor in Ward 5 in mid-2000s and now works at Lewis furniture store in town. She was ousted then before her term ended so we cannot understand why she is back. I will not be voting for her but there are not many options.

The ruling party constantly enjoys the majority in my ward. In the 2011 local elections, there were 3,537 registered voters.The ANC got the majority of 71.1 percent, and it was followed by the Democratic Alliance, with the percentage of 16.5% and the Pan African Congress (PAC) with 10 percent. For this election, the PAC is divided and does not have anyone standing.

The nearby town called Amsterdam is part of Ward 19. Amsterdam has about 11,000 people. It only has one clinic and one small library. There is also one high school, Nganana Secondary School. Even learners in my community travel with public buses to Nganana Secondary School. The school does not have any white children. They study in Piet Retief.

Amsterdam has many matriculants. Even the rate of people who work in professional jobs is not that bad, yet it is still insufficient. And in the past few years there has been a growth of people who have entered universities.

In my village there are dusty roads, which is the same situation in my town and the entire ward. The only roads that are tarred in my town are the major ones, but even those major roads have potholes in them. There are no traffic lights and I doubt that there ever will be. Traffic is rare and vehicles with expired discs and unlicenced drivers are common.

Despite all the difficulties, Thokazani village has equipped me and others to go beyond our challenging circumstances. I believe there are still many more great people whose light will shine like the constellations of stars in the night sky. Remember many legends first underwent hardships and rose where there was no hope.