State of the nation: The people Zuma has forgotten

President Jacob Zuma promised to develop Muyexe in Limpopo in 2009 but life goes on as before. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

President Jacob Zuma promised to develop Muyexe in Limpopo in 2009 but life goes on as before. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

They call him Zidane. Even with a "football" made of sticky tape and on a patch of bare earth masquerading as a football field, the nine-year-old shows off some silky skills and scores several goals.

You would have travelled a long way on a bumpy gravel road to reach last weekend's game between Muyexe FC (football club) and Xikwele FC.

Not many people from other villages bothered to go. A village elder, Joe Maluleka, later told us that taxi drivers often refuse to take passengers into the village because the long road to the rural, dusty and impoverished Limpopo village of Muyexe damages their vehicles.

If residents walk, they risk being attacked by wild animals that escape from the nearby Kruger National Park.

At the end of the final game, Muyexe FC players each walk away with R8 for their win.

Muyexe is known as the poorest village in South Africa. The men spend their time under trees in long discussions about what needs to be done to develop their area, which borders the Kruger National Park at the Punda Maria Gate and the proposed Shangoni Gate.

Under construction
Women have to walk for several kilometres to collect drinking water from a dam and to collect firewood, which they carry on their heads.

Four years ago, the village was in the news. During his first State of the Nation address in 2009, President Jacob Zuma announced plans to turn Muyexe into a model of rural development.

Later that year, Zuma visited the village to launch a project to improve the lives of the nearly 1 000 households. Officials said Zuma identified the area because it was the poorest village in the country and had no infrastructure such as tarred roads, running water, sanitation, adequate housing or electricity.

But the clinic is still under construction so people have to travel long distances to get to health facilities. A bus goes to Muyexe twice a day but people say they often have to use donkey carts to travel between villages.

Unemployment remains high and teenage pregnancies are common.

There is a lack of recreational activities, and school drop-out rates and poverty levels are alarmingly high, leaving little hope that Muyexe, with its present state of underdevelopment and lack of service delivery, will ever become the model of rural development that was promised by the president.

"What do you see that Zuma has developed here, huh?" an angry middle-aged man shouts at us when we ask about the progress made since Zuma's visit to the village in 2009.

"Did you see the roads we were promised when you came in here today, huh? Did you see the water that Zuma promised us when you came in here, huh? Did you see the clinic we were promised, huh?

"Leave us alone. You have seen for yourself what the situation is like in Muyexe. Leave us alone!"

The biggest problem facing the villagers is water. The boreholes in the village are privately owned and people have to buy water for irrigation, cooking or washing clothes.

Jane Mathebula (26), an unemployed mother of one, said villagers often went for weeks without getting water from the boreholes.

"We get water from boreholes but we have to buy at R1 for 25 litres. We are struggling and do not have money. When Zuma came here, we hoped our problems would be solved. We are still waiting for change," Mathebula said.

The local chief, Khazamula Maluleka, summed up the situation. More than three years after they were promised a clinic, library, tourism centre, shopping mall, hotel and tarred road, most of the projects did not even have funding, let alone  been started.

The chief's functions are many, and range from providing residential and agricultural sites to protecting forests and wild animals, and overseeing people's concerns.

Land reform
"The majority of people are not happy. They come to me for answers, but there are no answers. Projects to develop a paving plant, hotel, mall, police station, library and other infrastructure have collapsed due to lack of funding.

"The clinic you see over there is still under construction. It cannot be completed because of a lack of building material," Maluleka said.

"Land surveyors came here the other day to prepare for the construction of a tarred road through our village but nothing has been done.

"The new road is supposed to connect us with the Shangoni Gate of the Kruger National Park and will create much-needed jobs along the corridor. But we are still waiting for the authorities."

Mthobeli Mxotwa, the spokesperson for the department of rural development and land reform, said the Muyexe area was "very dry, with very little rainfall".

"[The department of] water affairs is building a pipe from the Nandoni dam to the Nsami dam so that water can be piped to the Muyexe village. This project was delayed for 14 months by legal wrangles over tender allocation.

"Fortunately, the court has made a ruling and the piping of water to Muyexe will go ahead as planned. It will be finished as soon as possible," said Mxotwa.

Meanwhile, the villagers are still waiting for change. For anything.

Charles Molele

Charles Molele

Charles Molele is a senior politics reporter at the Mail & Guardian. Charles joined the paper in 2011. He has covered general news, court and politics for the past 19 years, and also worked as a senior reporter for the Saturday Star, Sunday World, ThisDay, Sunday Times and is former politics editor of the New Age. Charles's other career highlights include covering Kenya's violent general elections (2007/08), Zimbabwe’s sham general elections (2008), Mozambique's food riots (2010) and the historic re-election of US President Barack Obama (2012). Read more from Charles Molele

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