Any chance of peace in Bekkersdal hinges on the response of the government, says Kwanele Sosibo.
After a violent protest that has gone on for several weeks and resulted in at least R11-million of damaged infrastructure in Bekkersdal, everything now hinges on an investigation into the municipality’s affairs by the department of co-operative governance and traditional affairs.
Addressing a crowd of a few hundred people from a concrete bench, community leader Thabang Hesi announced that the protest had been suspended until November 3, when they would receive feedback from the Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Lechesa Tsenoli.
Surrounding Hesi, a confident young man in his early 30s, are signs of the protest and the reasons for it.
The streets are littered with rubble. Undrained floodwater and sewage fill the hollows next to ramp-like speed barriers. A partially covered manhole oozes sewage. Barricades made of rocks and concrete blocks have turned the roads into obstacle courses.
Behind us, public buildings and a brand new gym have been destroyed. At the taxi rank, rows of hive-like structures for informal traders have been partially broken down. A business development hub, which some residents say has never been operational, has been broken into and vandalised.
According to 2011 data from Statistics South Africa, out of 18 807 households in Bekkersdal proper’s six wards, less than 7 000 had flushing toilets connected to a sewerage system. Out of a possible 46 689 jobseekers, 12 896 were listed as employed.
The dysfunction of Bekkersdal
Hesi says a pact has been reached with the tripartite alliance in Gauteng following unsuccessful visits to Bekkersdal by Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane.
On October 25, Mokonyane told a crowd that they could threaten to withhold votes from the ANC, but the party didn’t need their “dirty votes”.
On October 27, a church where she was attending a service with some provincial executive committee members was stoned, forcing her to leave in a police Nyala.
A Bekkersdal resident, Ditabe Mothepu, said it was the Gauteng arts and culture MEC and provincial ANC chairperson, Paul Mashatile, who calmed the people down “by recognising their grievances as valid”.
He said Mashatile said it was obvious that the local municipality did not have the capacity to run the area.
The dysfunction of Bekkersdal –flowing sewage, unreliable municipal services and unelectrified informal settlements – is widely attributed to the Westonaria local municipality. Residents say the municipality is rife with corruption, nepotism and maladministration.
Asked for evidence, among the documents Hesi gives the Mail & Guardian is the auditor general’s municipality report for the financial year ending June 30 2012.
It is grim and finds that, among other things, the municipality contravened supply chain management and financial oversight regulations year on year.
Mothepu shows the M&G several dormant projects, which he said are “ghost projects” emanating from an “urban renewal project” conceived a decade ago. It includes a stock farming project, a recycling plant and a brick-making site.
The site, overgrown veld fenced off by a green palisade, is reportedly a favourite hang-out for patrolling policemen who use its fire hose to wash their cars.
There appears to be no quick solution to Bekkersdal’s service delivery problems – at least not according to the local municipality.
Following a press briefing by Mokonyane this week, the municipality’s communication department compiled a report that reveals that there are 13 000 informal households in Bekkersdal (out of a total of 40 000 households in the local municipality).
The database is apparently incomplete “because of the transient nature of informal settlements”.
'Infrastructure is taking strain'
The report says that “the existing sewer system, which was developed in 1945 for a small population, can no longer cope with the increased utilisation and, as such, the infrastructure is taking strain”.
Bekkersdal is surrounded by declining gold mines and has attracted large numbers of jobseekers, many whom have never left.
Some residents in the informal sections of the township have lived there for decades.
Shadrack Kgalakgala, who makes his living fixing bicycles, said he has lived in Bekkersdal for more than 25 years, with several of those spent in a nearby transit camp.
“There are only a few communal taps here,” he said. “My toilet was last drained in January and I was charged R40 for that even though I believe that to be the municipality’s duty.”
Kgalakgala said he applied for an RDP house before his 17-year-old son was born.
Mokonyane promised that major work would taking place on the West Rand, with Mogale City being the “anchor of future developments”.