/ 24 July 2009

Two provinces, two towns, same outcry

Elijah Ngobeza doesn’t want a black government any more. ”Let the white people come back,” says the elderly resident of Thokoza. ”We vote, we vote, but there is no help.”

Like other Thokoza residents protesting on Tuesday, Ngobeza said the township has been without basic services for 15 years. ”We want houses, toilets, water and electricity,” says Nomsa, who, like many the Mail & Guardian spoke to in the strife-torn area, did not want to give her surname.

She says the residents are being ignored and she doesn’t know why. ”Are we not citizens of South Africa?”

Thokoza hostel and the Mpilweni informal settlement are testament to the lack of facilities. Residents complain of big rats that roam the streets and bite the children. Some of the rodents lie dead on the streets and on heaps of garbage where children play.

The bucket system is still used in Thokoza and faeces under the gutters produce an overwhelming stench. Electricity cables from the community auditorium run openly on the streets. ”Early this year someone was electrocuted and died,” says Thusini, another resident.

”We want development — we have nothing,” says a man living at Madala hostel. He says he moved to Madala because he couldn’t find a job in KwaZulu-Natal. He shares the four-roomed residence with 14 other men.

Sam Modiba, acting manager of Ekurhuleni metropolitan municipality, says there are programmes in place to address service delivery issues in the area, but acknowledges that ”there might be an issue of communication on what’s on the programme”.

Local ward councillor Caffius Nkosi says: ”We will be getting contractors to provide maintenance services to Thokoza hostel as well as electricity.” Although the complaints of the community are genuine the correct processes should have been followed, he says.

On Wednesday Workneh Tadese and 21 other Ethiopian men sat outside the Balfour police station. Their shops in the small Mpumalanga town had been looted and vandalised during service-delivery protests this week.

Tadese says the assaults on the shops might have been xenophobic because ”only shops belonging to Ethiopians and Pakistanis were looted”.

The shopkeepers say they don’t know why they were targeted. ”Before, we had no problems,” says one who wanted to remain anonymous. ”The people of Balfour don’t hate us — they need us.”

Sizabantu Supermarket — the name means ”to help people” — is similar to other vacant shops, its doors knocked down and windows broken. The cash register lies on the counter, empty.

On Wednesday youths led protesters, including grannies, grandfathers and children. Two weeks ago residents delivered a list of priorities to the municipal mayor. ”But he said he couldn’t read love letters,” says Sibusiso Nkosi.

Mayor Lefty Tsotetsi of the Dipaleseng municipality told ­protesters on Wednesday that he would address the community’s grievances within the next month. That didn’t stop the people of Siyathemba toyi-toying and throwing stones at the mayor, who was inside a police Nyala.

The police dispersed the crowd with rubber bullets and more than 70 suspects appeared in court charged with public violence.