[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. Xiletelo Mabasa of Malamulele, Limpopo Province, reflects.[/intro]


I grew up in a town called Malamulele meaning bringing peace when there is disagreement. The people here believe that long ago, during times of drought, there was a fountain by the same name somewhere in this area.

Malamulele, also known as Ward 13, is situated in the Vhembe district of part of Limpopo on the north-eastern side of the province. About 30km east of Malamulele is a town called Giyani where I went to school. It was about 45 minutes away by bus.

I hated it when my schoolmates insisted that I came from a village. This wasn’t because I was ashamed of coming from a village. It was the simple fact that I knew Malamulele did not qualify as a village. It has a hospital, secondary schools, and large shopping centres and recently got a new shopping mall. Across the road from the police station is the Premier’s office. I don’t think they’d put any of these specialised services in a village.

Where I come from you can always tell from the name of a settlement if it’s a town or village. I know the difference isn’t apparent to a non-Tsonga speaker but the meaning behind the names of towns is often difficult to decipher but that of a village is very straightforward and often humorous or offensive. The village of Gijamhandeni for example literally translates into “poop on a stick”.

I think the attitude of my classmates came from the fact that every time Malamulele developed, Giyani was always one step ahead. When we finally got a Shoprite they already had one and started building a Spar. For years I watched Giyani get new shopping centres and tarred roads while Malamulele seemed to progress more slowly and even stagnate at times. It took a big protest in 2014 to speed things up. The problems started many years back when change came.

After the fall of apartheid, the town of Malamulele was given a new municipality under the name Levubu-Shingwedzi Transitional Local Municipality. Soon the Municipality was merged with Thohoyandou and became known as the Thulamela Municipality. Locals were unhappy with this merger as administrative activity was centralised in Thohoyandou. This allowed for the people of Thohoyandou to get better services and development than the people of the Malamulele area even though both areas don’t exactly have stellar service delivery.

Around the early 2000s the people of Malamulele continuously submitted peaceful applications to the Municipal Demarcation Board to grant them independence from the Thulamela Municipality without success. The issues soon erupted in a violent protest in 2014 resulting in damage to property and a total shutdown of daily operations. Schools, businesses and roads were closed. Nothing could go in or come out. After the protests, traffic lights were installed, dirt roads between houses in Section C were tarred and a second shopping centre was built.

Despite this, many people don’t have water. They don’t have the borehole to depend on like the rest of us. The borehole was installed in 2004. According to WaziMap, about 89 percent of residents get water from a regional or local service provider. This is about 1.4 times the rate of Limpopo with about 63 %. WaziMap also indicates that four percent receive water from tankers, while 6 percent get them from alternatives other than the tanker, borehole and from the service provider.

Our home fortunately has water, electricity, sanitation and enjoys regular refuse collection. The garbage is collected on Monday mornings in Section A, Tuesdays in Section B, Thursdays in Section C and Wednesday or Friday in Section D. Before 2004 when the borehole came, I used to sit in the bathtub and wash myself with water from a small bucket.

According to Wazimap, Ward 13 has a population of 17 666. The median age is 22 compared with 25 nationally. About 93 percent of the people speak Xitsonga. This number is more than double the figure in Limpopo with 38.6. Nationally, 19 percent speak the language. The average annual household income stands at R29 400 with only 32 percent of the working population employed.

When the protests erupted I thought it came out of nowhere. I realised how little I know about my own town. My father is a school principal and my mom a teacher. I just lived my comfortable life oblivious to the problems around me while my parents attended ward meetings. Until recently, I had no idea that our ward councillor was a man named Lazarus Baloyi, a former teacher at Nhlaluko Secondary School. I feel a little ashamed that I don’t know these things about the world closer to me.

I wouldn’t say that there are any rising tensions with the approach of the local government elections. Malamulele for now has brought peace where there was disagreement staying true to its name.

However, there is contestation. I recently drove past a defaced ANC election advert and the culprit used words I cannot repeat. Aside from the swearing, the message was “It’s time for a new party”. In the last municipal elections of 2011, the ANC had 79% of the vote and the Ximoko Progressive Party 5% of the votes.

I have never attended a ward meeting before and am not interested in doing so. Regardless of this, I do aim to vote. It will be my first time since I was too young in 2014. I’m tired of just complaining about things and doing nothing about it. I feel that voting is the best way to put those issues to rest. It is the only voice I have as an ordinary citizen and I’m going to use it. The problem is that I am a student at the University of Johannesburg and won’t be able to travel home to vote in Ward 13. For now I will vote in Wilgeheuwel in Roodeport where I am registered because it’s close to the place I live with a relative.

Voting back home in Ward 13 will have to wait for 2019.