To everyone watching SABC news in April earlier this year, Andries Tatane’s death looked like a clear-cut case of excessive police force. Although the law has yet to take its course, it now emerges that Setsoto local council leaders may have to shoulder their share of blame for events that led up to the fatal shooting of Tatane. By MANDY DE WAAL.
As the DA and ANC face off in Ficksburg over a shameful report showing Setsoto local council in complete and utter disarray, details are emerging that the death of Andries Tatane could likely have been prevented if local councillors did their jobs – or at the very least bothered to hear people’s grievances.
“What happened is that the Meqheleng Concerned Citizens (MCC) staged a march during which they handed a document to the municipal manager and the then mayor, Mbothoma Maduna demanding certain things that were very normal and reasonable,” says Setsoto DA councillor Ben du Toit.
In the document handed over to council management, people asked for running water and sewerage. “Contracts had been awarded for water-borne sewerage but the system didn’t work properly because there was such shoddy workmanship. As a result, the people here haven’t had a proper sewerage system or water supply, and it is understandable that they grew tired of this because they had been speaking to their councillors for a long, long time.”
Du Toit says at a first march, the memorandum of demand was given to Maduna and the city manager who both failed to do anything about the communication and neglected to communicate any of these demands to the council. “Basically the document was just put aside and no action was taken.” (Maduna will be remembered for telling journalists who pointed out that the townsfolk had no water, that there was indeed water and it was contained in the Valpre bottles in his fridge. The ex-mayor was said to be giggling when he made this statement.)
When nothing was done, the Meqheleng Concerned Citizens staged the fateful march in early April during which time Tatane was shot and died. “After the MCC had handed over their document, and because nothing was communicated to council or done about the demands, the MCC rightly came to the conclusion that the council hadn’t heard or wasn’t prepared to listen to their grievances,” says du Toit.
The opposition councillor says that at a meeting held after Tatane was shot, another DA councillor, Dr Clive Marwick, stood up and said that the ANC-led council had intentionally kept the DA in the dark about the issues raised by protestors. “Maduna tried to exonerate himself but it was common cause that the ANC knew about the MCC’s problems and that they (had) failed to disclose the demands. The council didn’t have the opportunity to negotiate with the MCC because we weren’t informed about the document.”
Du Toit says the tragedy is that despite knowing how desperate the MCC was, the community’s grievances weren’t heard and this is what gave rise to the march that led to Tatane being killed. “It is shameful, but what is more shocking is that what we are experiencing here is being experienced by municipalities across the country.”
“It is painful. It is so very painful,” says Tseliso Mpekoa of the MCC when talking about the march that led to the death of Tatane and how it could have been averted. He says that there is also great pain amongst people in the township because the municipality still doesn’t care about their grievances and have failed to be open or honest or transparent about issues.
“This is exactly what leads to violence. People feel that they aren’t being heard and that nobody cares about their grievances so they get angry. The first march we had was peaceful, it was on TV but nobody cared because it wasn’t violent and nobody got hurt. It was only after Andries died that somebody did something.”
Mpekoa says Tatane’s death could easily have been prevented if the council had only been consultative, or at the very least, shown that they were listening to people the municipality is supposed to be working for. “If the municipality addressed the people’s demands, there wouldn’t have been another march. They need to respect the community when we present memorandums of demand.”
Mpekoa says that there’s a strange fault line in Setsoto that divides the township into an old section and a new section. The old part contains infrastructure that is at least functional. The new part is a complete and utter disaster that Mpekoa says will take years to rectify. “Water Affairs has brought water tanks but the municipality leaves it at that. They should provide trucks. There are still areas where the water doesn’t reach. The municipality isn’t doing anything. Whether it is a lack of knowledge or willingness, I don’t know.”
“But we will be speaking about these problems for the next four years because the municipality has messed up the infrastructure because the way that it is will take years to resolve. It was done so badly,” Mpekoa says. The MCC spokesperson tells stories of water taps that will be dry forever because they were failed to be connected to any infrastructure. “There are taps that will never have water for as long as they exist.” It appears nobody bothered to check that the very basics were being done correctly when this infrastructure was being installed.
“If you get a municipal contract, you just get your money and leave. There’s no accountability and people do as they please. When we go to meetings to discuss this with people, it is so painful. People here know that no one cares for them and that is what is painful,” says Mpekoa.
Three weeks ago Free State MEC for co-operative governance Mamiki Qabathe released a report on the functioning of the municipality, which can only be described as reprehensible. Commissioned after Tatane’s death the report chronicles a litany of venality and malfeasance.
In a story called “Tatane: Dossier of shame” journalist Beauregard Tromp states that the confidential report by the Free State government shows a local government ruined by “rampant corruption, maladministration, fraud, looting, nepotism and wasteful expenditure.”
A shortened, sanitised version of this report has been given to the DA, but the opposition party says it won’t rest until it has the full report, which names those involved in corrupt activities, is made available. “That specific report makes no mention of certain individual councillors or officials who transgressed certain acts, and did what they shouldn’t have done. During a council meeting we were given a shortened version that excluded all the names and recommendations,” says du Toit. After demanding to see the original report, the DA was given a lengthier version, but it still didn’t mention names.
A spokesperson for the provincial government said that the full report would not be released because disciplinary charges against municipal officials were pending. “The ANC refuses to discuss this matter in council meetings, and during the last council meeting when we kept raising the issue, the speaker wouldn’t permit this, and we were forced to stage a walk out.”
Du Toit says that the DA will take legal action to ensure they get access to the report. “When there is wrong, this municipality wants to sweep it under the carpet and hope that it will go away. We will not go along with this. We will go to court if we have to. We will do whatever is necessary to get that report.”
And as the DA and ANC face off at the Setsoto municipality, those dry water taps stand as a mocking reminder of a local government that has failed its people in the cruellest way. DM
All tortoises are actually turtles. Some turtles however are not tortoises.