Co-operative governance and traditional affairs minister Richard Baloyi’s response to the violent protests in the township of Ratanda was almost a perfect example of how to address community concerns. Most often, the town is forgotten as the smoke clears. He personally intervened so the community’s stakeholders could meet, table concerns and find resolutions. But was it enough? By GREG NICOLSON.
On Sunday, residents who filled the grandstand and lined the barbed wire fence surrounding Ratanda stadium bore none of the destructive malice that characterised the weeklong protest in the township.
Music blared from a stage awaiting Baloyi. He attended meetings to address the cause of the riots, said a member of the Ratanda Community Forum on the standing committee with the mayor, Lesedi Municipality officials and Gauteng provincial government staff. He also pressured mayor Lerato Maloka, accused of ignoring her community, to prioritise the concerns.
The crowd of over 500 grew restless as they waited for Baloyi to speak, singing through an opening prayer while dozens of police with nyalas and a water cannon watched on. When he took the stage, the minister confirmed most complaints related to the municipality’s provision of electricity: overpriced rates, combined bills for multiple services (such as water, property and electricity), cutting power when another bill is outstanding, inaccurate bills, and council staff who take advantage of residents and treat them “unbecomingly”.
Baloyi said the standing committee had agreed to de-link the billing of services and would continue to meet. No one’s power will be cut off for an outstanding payment of a non-electricity bill and those who were blocked or cut off will be reconnected. He told the crowd the municipality will improve billing management and, while he believed power should continue to be a council service, he would investigate the option of offering direct supply from Eskom, a consistent demand during the protests.
Despite both tangible and long-term solutions on offer, the community’s disillusionment was obvious when 10 people, pushing for their rights, were given a chance to speak on the field. The crowd cheered as each yelled into the microphone complaints about community members who were arrested during the protests, the mayor, a lack of participation and the community being ignored. An elderly lady clutched an electricity bill as she spoke before being escorted in tears back to the crowd.
Photo: An elderly Ratanda resident vents her frustration at the Lesedi Municipality, speaking as one of 10 community members to address the crowd and members of government. DAILY MAVERICK/Greg Nicolson.
Electricity might have been the spark that ignited the Ratanda protests but long-seated disenchantment kept it burning. Thapelo Mohalane had listeners on their feet as he clutched the mic and yelled towards the VIP tent. “Our government is neglecting us. They only care about those next to them,” he said. If you finish matric there are no opportunities, “the opportunities are in their pockets.”
Baloyi refused to discuss the crowd’s anger towards the mayor, saying her election is part of democracy and the ANC will discuss the matter. Some community members claimed she is not “our mayor” and they voted for another candidate but that Maloka had been imposed on them.
Many residents welcomed the minister’s response to the community’s electricity and billing concerns. But to avoid a repeat of the violent protests, in Ratanda or elsewhere, the government needed to reduce unemployment, provide basic services and make residents feel they were citizens instead of subjects.
As Baloyi took the stage for the final time, the grandstand launched into a struggle song drowning out his comments. “We know what is being said and we know it’s a lie,” came a voice from behind the barbed wire, suggesting it will take a lot longer than two weeks and more than just Richard Baloyi to offer the perfect response. DM
Photo: Cooperative governance and traditional affairs minister Richard Baloyi (centre) dances with Ratanda community leaders. DAILY MAVERICK/Greg Nicolson.
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