South Africa

Tlokwe: A city awaiting fierce political battle

By Jessica Eaton & Thapelo Lekgowa 8 July 2013

Daily Maverick travelled to Tlokwe in the North-West province on Friday to meet with the city’s new mayor Annette Combrink and some of the expelled ANC councillors, whose stand against corruption played a major role in the DA’s recent victory. Combrink, a self-described tough cookie, who recently held the mayorship for three months, said she wouldn’t tolerate nonsense and is confident that this time round the DA can maintain power. But, while she celebrates her win, the 14 errant ANC councillors who abstained from voting on Tuesday for their allegedly corrupt mayor, Maphetle Maphetle, have been expelled from the ANC and lost their jobs. Some have even received death threats. By JESSICA EATON & THAPELO LEKGOWA.

Driving into Tlokwe, one is greeted by a larger-than-life mug shot of recently ousted ANC mayor Maphetle Maphetle on a proud and colourful welcome billboard which reads, “Potchefstroom has it all: sport, culture, good governance, clean and green, excellent tertiary education.” Though North-West University is one of the country’s best, and the city is well known for its sports teams, good governance has not been something to brag about of late.

Following an investigation lead by the DA, allegations of fraud, corruption and money laundering emerged against Mayor Maphetle, and on Tuesday last week he lost his job to the DA’s councillor, Prof. Annette Combrink.

But the political upheaval did not end there for the North-West Province, and Maphetle isn’t the only one out of a job. On Wednesday, the 14 errant councillors responsible for the vote of no confidence in last year’s displacement of Maphetle received an SMS reading, “The Provincial Disciplinary Committee of the ANC North-West has in its disciplinary hearing held on the 2 June 2013, resolved as follows on charges preferred against you. That you are expelled as a member of the ANC for a period not exceeding five years.” But for some councillors, political isolation is not the biggest of their concerns. Some of them have received death threats from within the party for their “disobedient” behavior.

Speaking to the Daily Maverick on Friday, Maseapei Madiehe-Teme, one of the expelled councillors, confirmed rumors that threats had been made on her life and those of fellow comrades. “There is a list of names of those who are to be done away with. The police are aware of it and they have told us to report any suspicious acts we might see around us.” Describing her personal fear, she told the Daily Maverick, “I was shaken and I was stressed a lot. My face was swollen with stress, especially since I am living with my son in the township.”

She added that “this is not the ANC of my childhood; it’s not the ANC of Mandela and Sisulu, when we used to sit down and talk to solve problems.” Madiehe-Teme, however, has no intention of leaving the party that fought for her freedom, saying she would remain loyal to them.

These disobedient, and now threatened, councillors are not alone in their dislike for Maphetle, nor are they alone in their desire to stand up to corruption and mismanagement in their community.

Photo: ANC members protesting in February 2013 against reinstating Maphetle Maphetle as Mayor of Tlokwe and the suspension of David Kham who was the chief Whip than.

James Gadinabokao, Regional Secretary of The South African National Civil Organisation, (SANCO) is in full support of the expelled councillors, who he believes are brave citizens standing up for what’s right. Gadinabokao arrived late to meet the Daily Maverick on Friday after a long meeting with the city council to get permission for an anti-corruption march that SANCO is planning for July 12th. “We are glad that the allegations of corruption are going to be reported and we have full support for the expelled councillors. We are used to threats since we unveiled this type of corruption and, as SANCO, we know they can do with us what they have done with comrade Moss Phakoe,” referring to an ANC councillor in Rustenburg who was allegedly killed for being a whistleblower against corruption. So, he said, “SANCO will be mobilising on behalf of the councillors, who we feel did a lot against corruption.”

The expulsion of the ANC councillors did not sit well with community members either. On Thursday, in an act of support for their local representatives and their dissatisfaction with the dismissals, residents burned ANC T-shirts. According to Gadinabokao, “the aim of the day was to show the ANC who is boss, to show them that councillors were voted in by the people and if the ANC wants them removed, they must go tell the people that they have removed them.”

For now, though, until local by-elections are held, Tlokwe is being led by a self-described “tough cookie” who grew up on a farm and “is too old for nonsense”. Prof Combrink’s immediate plan, now that she has the power, is to work on cleaning up the city and the surrounding townships and to fix the badly potholed roads, all things she says “rate highly on the irritation scale.” In the long term, she is interested in solving the Dolomite rock issue that affects Tlokwe, which can lead to deadly sinkholes that can swallow entire homes. Unfortunately, it is the town’s poorest residents living in Ikageng that are the worst affected by this massive environmental problem, which she says has been neglected until now.

But before she works on the city’s problems, Combrink will have to take on the ANC’s allegations that her win was “undemocratic and against the will of the people.” She has already called these allegations the “sheerest nonsense” and told the Daily Maverick on Friday that “you only needed to see the people outside the council meeting to be convinced that the people are for my leadership and the ANC’s accusations are not true.” In defence of claims that she could not represent the ANC majority, Combrink emphasised that she spent most of her efforts with the poorest of the poor during her previous stint as mayor and underlined that the DA had a strong presence in the townships, contrary to popular belief. “When I drive around in Ikageng, residents openly admit that they will vote for the DA next time round because it has been proved that we can deliver and there is now no heir-apparent for the ANC.” Though she is pleased with the work of the expelled councillors, she dispelled rumors that they may join the DA. “That wouldn’t be clever,” she said, though she did hint that a formal coalition or a loose collaboration is not off the cards in a case the councillors stand as independents in the by-elections.

Combrink is confident, though, that this time round the DA can maintain the power. “My last three-month position helped a lot to break down the demonising of the DA and helped us to get familiar with the people,” she said.

On Saturday in Die Aker Café in the center of Tlokwe, a resident came up to her to offer a bunch of freshly cut flowers to congratulate her and wish her luck. Not everyone wishes her well, though. While her children fear for her safety and think she needs a bodyguard in the city well-known for dirty and dangerous politics, the woman herself is confident in the good-will of the people.

Photo: Councilor Mayor prof. Annette Combrink, new mayor City of Tlokwe after she received flowers from a citizen wishing her well in her new journey. Picture taken in an interview she had with the Daily Maverick on Friday 5 June 2013.

As predicted by the Daily Maverick in February, “a deep divide (in Tlokwe) will remain and will rear its head again soon.” This week’s political upheaval has proved predictions right, and with by-elections coming up on the 7th August, the future of political balance in the area may look startlingly different. DM

Main photo: Billboard on the entry City of Tlokwe with the picture of the Ex Mayor of Tlokwe cllr Maphetle Maphetle.

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