How does one speak of a hometown without giving vent to emotion? While in Mafikeng this past weekend, stoically defying its familiar but simmering dry heat, I asked myself if this little town of mine had gotten better over the year.
Okay scratch that, rhetorical question. Mafikeng has not gotten any better and, yes, I call it Mafikeng as opposed to the now popular 'Mahikeng' for the simple and selfish reason that, that is what I have always called it. In fact, the name Mafikeng was officially accepted and used following a decision to do away with the bastardised Mafeking version and the town's incorporation into the then homeland of Bophuthatswana in 1980.
Now before I go too far, let me get this little bit out of the way, that is that this article is in no way an attempt at apologetics but rather an honest though opinionated reflection of how the change of political power does not always have the clarion call "a better life for all" as a companion. The most vivid memories that I have of Mafikeng, as could be expected, are those of its eventual demise or rather the demise of the homeland within which it was situated.
The then president Chief Lucas Mangope, who had succeeded in outdoing chief Tidimane Pilane for the position of the first (and only) chief minister in 1972 following the inaugural meeting of the Bophuthatswana Legislative Assembly, found himself in what can only be described as a quagmire of note in the period leading up to South Africa's first democratic elections. Unable to relinquish power, he put his faith in the AWB in the hopes that his "country" would resist incorporation back into South Africa.
Despite Mangope's blunders and the clearly unwelcome position by many anti-apartheid political movements, that Bophuthatswana like all the other homelands was a step in the wrong direction regarding the collective struggle of the native peoples of South Africa, Bophuthatswana went on to become the best run and most successful of the homelands. The argument has been made before; under the Bophuthatswana black-run government many positive things were achieved, even in the face of relying on apartheid South Africa for backing and the subsequently unfortunate endorsement of the policy of racially based separate development.
Infrastructure such as an airport, a broadcasting centre (Bophuthatswana Broadcasting Corporation, or BBC), a quality university (UniBo) and internationally equipped and state of the art recording studio, to name but a few, were put in place. A strong sense of identity both culturally and socially was entrenched in many of the homeland's inhabitants. It was required that one be as fluent and literate in their mother tongue as they were in English or the dominating Afrikaans of the time.
Of course, this is not to say that the Bophuthatswana days were the halcyon days as the rest of the country continued to go through the motions of a land forcefully coming to terms with its destiny. Even within its borders, a constant awareness of the stark contrast of life outside permeated the minds of many. But the significance of this historical context becomes relevant when one looks at what the former Bophuthatswana homeland became after a democratic dispensation was achieved. Under the current ANC leadership and since 1994, Mafikeng as the apparent synecdoche of Bophuthatswana and its entire functioning infrastructure all but came to a tragic halt and dare one say, deliberate near-destruction.
Logic arguably dictates that given much of the work that had already been accomplished in Mafikeng, all that the ANC had to do was to build on top of it. But this was never the case. The former BBC which, according to some sources, already had the capacity to provide a number of national channels several times over its now embarrassingly incompetent parent body, the SABC, quickly deteriorated. The international recording studios, which were used for part of the award winning Lion King musical production, were put under lock and key, while the airport, which is still in the list of longest runways in the world, was passed on for some private use despite the brief SAA connecting flights that were operated from it.
Mafikeng as it stands does not have a town gallery even though many a talent came and continue to come out of it. The town museum is a dishevelled institution which currently sees its parking lot being utilised by the provincial department of public works. In any given year, a new shopping mall can spring up a mere five minutes from the next one, creating in turn, ghostly complexes whose interiors are filled with to-let signs and emptiness. These are but only a few of the many things that are now administratively wrong with Mafikeng.
The sprawling rural land that was tamed into a town as sensitively depicted in the photographic work of Paul Alberts, The Borders of Apartheid, is now nothing but a shadow of its former self. Thanks ANC.
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