No change, no vote

A year after Harrismith’s impoverished Intabazwe township erupted against poor service delivery, the community has vowed they will not vote, or will vote for opposition parties, in the upcoming local government elections.

They insist that promises made by the African National Congress-led council have been dishonoured.

In September last year, the streets of Intabazwe were in turmoil for days as residents demonstrated against the local council’s dire delivery record. A 17-year-old schoolboy, Teboho Mkhonza, was shot dead when policemen fired into a crowd blocking the N3 highway.

It was to be the first in a wave of local delivery protests across the country.

Recently the Mail & Guardian found Intabazwe still seething.

Violet Mkhonza, the mother of Teboho, wept in her kitchen over a dog-eared photograph of her dead son and a perceived breach of faith by the Free State ANC.

She claimed compensation money promised by Premier Beatrice Marshoff had not been forthcoming.
Attempts to verify this with Marshoff’s office were unsuccessful.

“I’m not going to vote. How can you vote when people are not delivering? It’s a waste of energy,” said Pauline Mkhonza, Teboho’s older sister. “We’ll vote for people who care; [the ANC] doesn’t care about my mother.” The three policemen charged with his murder only go on trial in February next year.

Neo Motaung, leader of the Greater Harrismith Concerned Residents’ Forum and the ANC Youth League branch leader, who led the protests last year, said that councillors within the Maluti-a-Phofung municipality “close to mayor Balekile Mzangwa” had attempted to bribe him to use his popular support to appease the community.

Motaung said he was offered R1 500 on one occasion and R75 000 on another to “convince the Intabazwe community to welcome the mayor back”. Mzangwa has categorically denied these allegations.

The protesters had called for the resignation of Mzangwa, accusing him of giving preferential treatment to nearby QwaQwa and ignoring Intabazwe’s needs.

Over 20 Intabazwe residents told the M&G they would either vote for the Democratic Alliance or not vote at all in the local elections.

Teacher Mabuso, Sepho Khomo, Pssa Mshaba and Aaron Tshabalala are recruiting people to the DA. “Most of the ANC don’t care about the people. They keep the jobs for friends and family,” said Khomo.

All four voted for the ANC in the national elections last April, but joined the DA this year. “I see the people every day; they look for services and get nothing,” said Mabuso.

One woman, Angelina Maseko, said she would only vote for the ANC because her child’s survival depended on her government welfare grant.

“The ANC keeps promising, but there is nothing,” she said.

“We’re angry,” said Maggie Twala. “We’re still living in mkukuweni [corrugated iron houses]. Nothing has changed for us; how can we vote?”

We follow the furrowed roads, where wood fires burn in many yards and dusty children play in puddles. “You see what I mean?” asked Motaung, pointing to row upon row of crumbled foundations that were once the start of RDP houses. “The contractor never finished building these. They were left and then vandalised.”

Benny Khotsoane, a member of the local government and housing committee in the Free State legislature, said the government was investigating “the administration of housing, including workmanship”. But Motaung said the community had been “given this line” before and was promised a report on the issue in July.

Inspection of the municipality’s budget shows that service delivery has become a casualty of poor fiscal planning, rather than “a third force”, as the ANC suggested at the time of the protests.

Salaries soak up 25% of the total budget while capital spending accounts for 21%. Community members are becoming increasingly intolerant of the fat salaries of non-delivering councillors.

Pat Matosa, deputy- chairperson of the Free State ANC, conceded that municipal priorities “are lopsided”. “I don’t understand why [sewage] buckets are only emptied every three weeks. Why do ward councillors not brief their constituencies every month? The problem is in the government system.”

Khotsoane believes party politics is also responsible. “People are beginning to lobby for positions of power ahead of the branch general meetings [where ward councillors are elected] to the detriment of governance. It’s about competition for power.”

As I leave Harrismith, a petrol attendant, Wilbur Tshabalala, asked about the purpose of my visit. “Eish, they’ll [only] give you a job because you’ve got an ANC card—that’s why I’m not interested in voting,” he said.

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