In Mothotlung, where three people died this week during a stand-off with police at a service delivery protest, municipal failures are the norm.
The Madibeng municipality, under which Mothotlung falls, resembles more the beginnings of a town than one that has deteriorated. Most roads are gravel, while a few paved sections dart the sidewalks. These sections of paving are described by locals as interventions by the municipality to "keep Sanco [the South African National Civic Organisation] at bay".
By September 2012, the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) uncovered fraud, corruption and nepotism at Madibeng, and recommended that urgent action be taken.
The findings could not have been news to the ministers who descended on Mothotlung this week in the wake of a service delivery march, calling for the community's patience and promising that services would be provided.
The findings would also not have been news to the marchers who protested for better service delivery this week, during which two people were shot dead and another later died during a stand-off with police.
Community members this week told the Mail & Guardian of allegations that the water pipe in question was tampered with, perhaps as an act of sabotage, so that a tender would be available for its repair to the benefit of the winning bidder.
Tender fraud is rife here: the SIU's report identified myriad examples. From the R5.4-million grass-cutting contract awarded to a relative of the mayor to the R10.8-million's irregular expenditure incurred by the issuing of four contracts for the erection of high mast lights, which was referred to the National Prosecuting Authority for prosecution.
This municipality spent R24-million on funerals, yet payments were made to companies that do not provide funeral services, and R177 000 was split between "training" companies who did not provide training at all.
Then there was the liquor budget of the municipality, of which R27 718 was spent in one month alone.
In this light, the community's suspicion of tender fraud in the mysterious vanishing of water pipes might not be so outlandish, although it remains unproven: 341 municipal officials faced disciplinary action for non-declaration of business interests and conflict of interest amounting to R4.9-million by the end of 2012.
Apart from a tender, obtained through political connectivity, work is scarce in Mothotlung. Residents told the M&G that the main source of work opportunities were in the mines around Brits. One woman said she was told to pay a bribe of R3 500 for access to a job – a price she could not afford.
The Madibeng municipality received consecutive disclaimers of opinion from the auditor general for reasons spelled out in breathless exasperation in audit reports: in short, almost nothing submitted by the municipality could be verified. The municipality ignored just about every good practice note, treasury plea, and accounting standard.
Although the municipality claims to have turned the corner in its latest annual report, the auditor general's office, in its 2011/12 assessment and upon the discovery that Madibeng underspent its municipal infrastructure grant by more than R70-million, said: "The municipality has not achieved its objectives of providing access to basic services, maximising job creation and skills development, uplifting the life of communities and providing poverty alleviation."
And yet, in spite of underspending on infrastructure, Madibeng overspent its total budget.
It is also involved in several civil claims against it, all of which the municipality is opposing in the hopes that it will win in court.
The auditor general has not been much kinder on other municipalities in the North West: 81 % of auditees in the 2011/12 financial year received disclaimer of opinions or qualified audit opinions. Supply chain management findings, or errors in how the auditees manage tenders or contracts, were identified in 96% of auditees in the province.
Meanwhile, a recent poll by survey firm Ipsos showed comparatively high numbers of potential undecided or disillusioned voters in the North West.
The nationwide poll conducted by the firm surveyed 3 564 South Africans of voting age. The interviews took place from October 22 to November 21 2013.
Ipsos noted that, in the 2014 elections, voters intend on "to a much greater degree than in previous elections, split their votes – ie vote for different parties on the national and provincial ballots".
Ipsos found that in the North West, the ANC was likely to maintain control over the province with a majority of 63.5%, while the Economic Freedom Fighters could become the official opposition, winning as much as 12.5% of the votes. The Democratic Alliance would likely win 6.5% of the vote, according to the poll.
But roughly 10% of voters polled in the North West did not nail their colours to any particular party's mast: 4.7% said they would not vote at all, 2.6% refused to answer, 1.1% said they did not know who they would vote for, and 0.9% were not registered to vote.