Worth infinitely more than you've paid for it.
1 September 2014 15:31 (South Africa)
South Africa

In Marikana, local government's failures in plain sight

  • Khadija Patel
  • South Africa
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As the standoff between workers and Lonmin PLC continues in Marikana, workers’ anger is directed just as much to local government as it is to their employers. And it’s no wonder: corruption, a high-profile cover-up murder and a community terrorised by crime – not to mention a lack of basic services like refuse removal, sanitation and electricity – this is the reality for those living near Wonderkop. By KHADIJA PATEL. 

Small Koppie, the site where police are alleged to have shot and killed at least twenty people at close range on August 13, is currently under intense scrutiny. Researchers, human rights activists and journalists have all flocked there in a feverish attempt to piece together what actually happened. But Small Koppie, before it became the site of so much media attention, before it was the site of death, served a more basic function to the community from the nearby Wonderkop settlement – as an open-air latrine for residents without pit toilets near their shacks.

Outside the town of Marikana, residents of the informal settlement in Wonderkop, like residents of the other 15 settlements nearby, have no access to basic services – running water, electricity and refuse removal. The veld between Wonderkop and the koppie is strewn with rotting garbage and human faeces. It is not a pretty sight, yet the chimneys at Lonmin’s smelting plant puff away with mechanical regularity, betraying nothing of the human lives in the surrounds. 

Still, even as Lonmin is lambasted for displaying inadequate corporate social responsibility to its workers, the local government has emerged, in conversation with residents, to be just as far removed from the grievances of Marikana residents. 

“People feel their problems are not taken seriously by their councillors,” Eric Mokuoa, a community member from the LUKA environmental forum, told Daily Maverick. Residents in Marikana echoed his assessment.  

One mineworker, who chose to remain anonymous, was standing in another garbage-littered veld closer to the Marikana town centre when we approached him. He perked up immediately at a question about life in the town. “In Marikana, the life is very bad,” he said animatedly, gesturing down the veld. “Here in my house, I have no lights, no water, nothing. 

“We can’t come home after five o’clock because then it is too dangerous,” he added. “Our children are getting raped, our things are getting stolen, people are getting murdered. 

“The police don’t help us, you know.”  

Another mineworker, standing beside him, complained that the town clinic was only a day facility, and if children fell ill after dark, parents were forced to transport them to the nearest hospital in Rustenburg – a R500 taxi ride away. “There is not even an ambulance for us,” he said. 

And while both men showed no hesitation in blaming Lonmin for a sizeable portion of their woes, they were equally scathing of the local government representation. “Our councillor, all the councillors here are corrupt,” one said. Residents complained that their councillors were deaf to their complaints; others complained that they did not even know how to reach their councillors.   

This dissatisfaction with the local government is not a new, sudden development. It has existed as an undercurrent of life in Marikana for years. A 2010 study, “Mining and local economic development: a case study of the Rustenburg local municipality” by Mpho Brian Ndaba of Wits University reported that interviewees from Marikana “were dissatisfied and had no faith in the local municipality”.  

“They perceive local municipal officials as not being effective in delivering essential public services.  They also perceive local government institutions to be administered by migrant workers that are not well acquainted with the needs and cultural values of the local population,” according to Ndaba. 

“The Rustenburg municipality has been riddled with corruption for years,” Mokuoa explained to Daily Maverick, pointing out that the former mayor of the Rustenburg municipality, Matthew Wolmarans, was found guilty of the murder of local councillor Moss Phakoe in July. Shortly before he was murdered, Phakoe had handed a dossier detailing alleged corruption in the Rustenburg municipality to then co-operative governance and traditional affairs minister Sicelo Shiceka. 

“The arrest of the former mayor is related to corruption,” Mokuoa said. “It is linked to the challenges of service delivery in the municipality.” 

The legacy of Wolmarans, however, still haunts the functions of the Rustenburg municipality. “The municipality is now focused on getting rid of corruption at the cost of (service) delivery,” Mokuoa said. Crucially, Mokua believes that while attention to the challenges of Marikana residents have come under due scrutiny in recent weeks, Marikana is not unique, and neither should it be the only area receiving this level of media attention. “It is not just in Marikana that people are struggling to engaging the mines and government about their problems,” he said. 

In June this year, Auditor General Terence Nombembe bemoaned the lack of accountability in municipalities in the North West province, to which Rustenburg belongs, in his annual survey of the health of local government.  “These outcomes reflect a regression in the audit outcomes and an increase in financial statements not submitted for audit purposes,” Nombembe wrote. “Without a positive and committed reaction from mayors and councillors, opportunities to build a sustainable culture of accountability at municipal level remain limited.”

According to Ndaba, Lonmin’s engagement with the Marikana community is founded in a principle to provide support where government cannot supply assistance, but, he says, the company’s efforts are usually hampered by “political obstacles emanating from the public sector”. “Lonmin feels that mining companies should not take on the work of the public sector, but should support capacity building which will enable the government to meet its obligations,” Ndaba says. 

In recent years, local government and Lonmin have ineffectually passed responsibility for living conditions of residents back and forth to each other, with no sustainable results. 

According to The Rustenburg Report, compiled by Mokuoa with a group of community environmentalists and activists in 2011, local government and Lonmin have long jostled for responsibility for the living conditions of residents. A case in point: in 2008, Lonmin donated a high mast light to the Marikana West RDP housing settlement, but the mine did not properly transfer ownership of the light to the Marikana ward. 

“When the light stopped working in 2009, the (Marikana ward) could not take responsibility for the light, as they said that this was not part of their assets,” reads The Rustenburg Report. “The community, before the installation of the lights, had problems of crime like house breaking, theft, rape cases and mugging of residents at night, but the problem is recurring since the light went off.”

And though this culture of shirking responsibility – passing the buck from government to Lonmin and back again – is dizzying, it is the feeling among residents that they actually have no say, no input into this exchange and how it is handled, that is the greatest failure of the local government.   

The Local Government Municipal Systems Act of 2000 requires municipalities to “develop a culture of municipal governance that complements formal representative government with a system of participatory governance”. Public participation in government entails involving people in deciding their futures. And yet, in Marikana, as elsewhere in the platinum belt, and indeed elsewhere in the country, communities have become frustrated with the non-delivery local services and have resorted to protest. 

Recent events in Marikana have showed up many of the fault lines of the country, but have also demonstrated most vociferously that government is out of touch with the concerns of voters. DM

*Efforts to reach communication officers for the Rustenburg Municipality as well as officials from the Marikana ward came to naught this weekend. 

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Photo:  Wonderkop settlement by Kyle de Waal

  • Khadija Patel
  • South Africa


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