The drive to win votes in the upcoming local government elections is in full swing in most parts of the country, with posters and campaigners moving from town to town to woo voters.
But some residents in Vuwani, in the Collins Chabane local municipality in Limpopo the lack of political parties’ presence, bar the odd poster here and there, was adding to their lack of in the municipal elections, which will be held on 1 November.
Some of their reasons for being unsure about casting their votes include the stench from burst sewerage pipes, which they have been battling to get the Vhembe district municipality to fix for months; the poor water supply; and claims of the Collins Chabane municipality giving some residents preferential treatment when allocating jobs.
“Walk around our township and tell me what you see. You don’t even need to see it because the sewage is all you can smell,” one businessman, who asked not to be named, told the Mail & Guardian.
“The sewage is just one problem. We haven’t had water for four days now. I have a food business but I can’t operate fully, because the taps are dry. So tell me: Do we have a reason to vote when we get no services from the municipality?” he asked.
In the 2019 national and provincial government elections, the Collins Chabane municipality had one of the lowest voter turnouts in the country, at just 52%. More than 156 893 people had registered to vote, but only 81 786 votes were cast.
At the time of the 2019 elections, tempers were high in the district because of the amalgamation of the Thulamela and Makhado municipalities in 2016. The decision by the demarcation board led to violent protests, with state properties being vandalised during the run-up to the 2019 elections. Political intolerance, as well as intimidation, are allegedly some of the reasons for the poor turnout on election day.
“In the last polls people were afraid to cast their votes. I remember one polling station only recording five votes because of the intimidation,” said Bishop Baloyi, a human rights activist from Gumbani village near Vuwani.
Baloyi said the situation has dramatically changed since the 2019 elections, with subsequent developments helping to restore calm. A deal to allow Vuwani residents to receive services from the Vhembe district municipality was one of the factors that helped to stop the protests.
The construction of Masingita Mall in Malamulele, as well as the community hall, in addition to traffic lights being installed and upgrades made at the traffic department have seen residents change their minds about the grievances they had in the past.
“I am going to vote in the elections. The ANC must continue doing the good work that they are doing. Children are receiving the child support grant, pensioners are also receiving the old age support grant, and they have dealt well with the diseases that are currently in our communities so they must continue to govern well,” said Malamulele resident Samuel Simbhi.
Baloyi added: “In Malamulele especially, it is business as usual, because people have seen some change. Yes, there are those who are still unhappy about the amalgamation of the municipalities, but the intimidation that we saw previously is no longer happening. People are free to campaign. They are just waiting for more service delivery.”
Water and sewage management for Vuwani is run by the Vhembe district municipality. Baloyi, who has observed improved service delivery in other areas, raised concern about people going for days without water when they were close to one of the largest dams in the province. For him, there was no justification for people not having clean water and he said that the municipality had failed residents.
“Nandoni Dam is the third-largest dam in the province, but we’ve got a municipality that is failing to provide water to the community. They need to explain why we don’t have water, because that dam is full and more rain has been predicted for our region,” Baloyi said.
The Vhembe district municipality told the M&G that measures had been put in place to resolve the water crisis faced by Vuwani residents. This includes the Vondo water scheme upgrade; however, while this upgrade is being effected, Vuwani is receiving its water on a two-day rotational basis.
“The Vuwani water crisis will also be resolved once water infrastructure projects that are getting water from the Nandoni are completed,” Vhembe municipality spokesperson Ralushai Matodzi said.
“Once reported, the matter of the sewer gets urgent attention; however, the municipality apologises for any delays in the sewer maintenance. The team responsible for the area will improve the monitoring systems,” he added.
But the youth of Vuwani feel that Malamulele residents are the only people benefiting from the current administration, particularly when it comes to employment opportunities and service delivery.
The Vuwani Youth Forum (VYF), formed almost two months ago, decided to take action against what it called a violation of its members’ rights.
“We were tired of being spectators in our own community ,where we were seeing a lot of injustice take place,” said VYF chairperson Tshifhiwa Nedzamba. “We have an issue with how service delivery is being done: it’s like no one is taking us seriously. The municipality is ours, but it’s like we don’t belong here.”
Nedzamba went on to allege that the municipality was overlooking young people from Vuwani, claiming that vacancies for a recently appointed refuse removal contract were not advertised at the municipal office in Vuwani.
He also claimed that for those positions that were advertised, the lack of a proper transport system for Vuwani residents was a stumbling block for job seekers.
“We have to go to town in Malamulele to submit job applications and there is no public transport going there. We end up having to hike, yet we have a municipal office right here in Vuwani. So our forum is going to fight for our rights as the young people of Vuwani,” Nedzamba said.
The VYF, however, had decided that its members would vote in the upcoming elections even though political parties were not actively campaigning in the area. The forum also vowed that its fight for equal opportunities would continue after the elections.
The municipality, however, denies claims that it was overlooking Vuwani residents in terms of employment opportunities, instead insisting that there are equal opportunities for all residents and young people who live in it.
“There is no way that we would close them [Vuwani youth] out of job opportunities: they are our people,” Collins Chabane municipal spokesperson Robert Mathye said. “What happened is that when some vacancies were advertised, they didn’t apply because they were unhappy with the municipality.”
The eligibility of job seekers for certain positions should also be considered, Mathe said. He also noted that for tenders, such as the refuse removal one, the contractor who was awarded tender was responsible for the recruitment process, rather than the municipality.
“I think the issue here is that some people don’t have adequate information about the processes and they think that we are overlooking them,” Mathye said. “We currently have internship positions and we encourage those who qualify to apply for them.”