THE PEOPLE SPEAK
‘We don’t have water,’ rural KZN residents tell Ramaphosa at imbizo
Residents of uThukela District Municipality hope service delivery will improve after President Cyril Ramaphosa held an imbizo in the district on Friday. Politics, however, overshadowed the day, with the IFP winning a by-election in the area days before the President’s visit.
Two days before President Cyril Ramaphosa was due to attend a presidential imbizo in the Alfred Duma Local Municipality, KwaZulu-Natal, the Inkatha Freedom Party put a damper on the event by narrowly winning a by-election in Ward 29, winning 51% of the vote against the ANC’s 44%.
The imbizo – formally known as the 7th District Development Model Presidential Imbizo – saw Ramaphosa, along with a team of ministers, KZN Premier Nomusa Dube-Ncube, provincial MECs and local mayors and councillors descend on the Oqungweni Sports Field on Friday, 30 June, to address the concerns in the district and unblock developmental projects.
The event was held under the theme of “leaving no one behind” in the development of communities, the rebuilding of the economy and service delivery.
But it was clear that politics and politicking overshadowed everything. Ward 29, which includes Oqungweni and Mhlumayo, was won by the IFP in the November 2021 local government elections, but the seat became vacant when former councillor Phasika Nsele’s membership was terminated by the party for allegedly accepting bribes to remove an IFP mayor.
The IFP’s win means that it will be able to keep governing the Alfred Duma Local Municipality (formerly known as Ladysmith Local Municipality) with the help of the DA and other small parties.
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Alfred Duma falls under the uThukela District Municipality, which also includes Okhahlamba and Inkosi Langalibalele local municipalities.
The district derives its name from one of the major rivers in KwaZulu-Natal, the uThukela River, which rises from the Drakensberg and supplies water to a large portion of KZN, as well as Gauteng. Its total population is estimated at 668,848 people, spread unevenly among the 73 wards.
Before the event, there were fears over how Ramaphosa would be welcomed in this part of KZN, where many are known to support former president Jacob Zuma. As a result, there was a heavy security presence in and around the venue. But these fears seemed unfounded as many welcomed the presence of Ramaphosa and his ministers.
By mid-morning Friday, there was thick dust and smoke as luxury vehicles driven by government officials, distinguished guests and other observers negotiated their way down Mhlumayo Mountain to the sports field where thousands of people had already gathered.
Most of the crowd wore their ANC regalia with pride, although there were a few IFP supporters wearing T-shirts with the face of Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi and EFF supporters wearing their red T-shirts, some bearing the face of the party leader Julius Malema.
Many locals said it was the first time that such a big government function had been held in their area, and said it would give them an opportunity to speak their truths to those in power.
Service delivery challenges
On our way to the venue, we saw many local women carrying water containers on their heads, underscoring the fact that water shortage in the district is endemic.
At a roadside borehole in Madazana, a village about seven kilometres from the venue of the imbizo, we met Ntombenhle Mabizela (45) and her daughter Yamukela, drawing water from a borehole as thirsty cattle tried to drink from the puddle that had formed around it.
“We have to walk long distances to get water,” Mabizela said. “People from all over these villages come here for water. Today you don’t see them, because they all went out to the government function. We want Ramaphosa to see the lives we are living here, so that he can support us and bring change.”
Like other guests, Bhekonjani Dlangalala (71) was wearing his best clothes and sat proudly outside the main marquee. He said he had lived in the Oqungwini area all his life and had never seen such a big government event in the area.
“We have to thank Ramaphosa because it is the first time in history that such a thing happens here; it is the first time we see so many cars,” he said, quickly adding that he wanted the government to address all the issues in the area.
“There is too much crime here. I lost five cows that I had spent many years trying to save and buy and they were lost in one day as they were grazing in the Mhlumayo Mountains. There are many others who have lost their livestock,” he said.
“My son – who was 40 years old – was killed by someone we know. We think the suspect bought the police and the courts because he walked scot-free because of lack of evidence. After that he ran away from this area,” he said.
During the imbizo, it took more than two hours for local residents and guests from other parts of the uThukela District Municipality to speak their minds and offer solutions.
Some of the complaints and solutions ranged from outlandish to innovative. One priest, Rev Bhibha Shabalala, for example, asked the government to start a moral regeneration programme focusing on the youth. He suggested that every government department should have a chaplain to spearhead the programme.
Other residents complained about basic services such as water and electricity, dilapidated roads, poverty, unemployment, high levels of violent crime, police corruption and the inability of the SAPS to arrest those responsible.
Others thanked the government for the R350 social relief of distress grant, but urged Ramaphosa to increase the amount to R500, while others complained about inadequate clinics and hospitals. They wanted all three spheres of government to address their complaints.
Slindile Sithole was a speaker who received wild applause. She told Ramaphosa and his team that the community didn’t have water and often had to drink from the river, which is used by cattle and other livestock. In addition, she said, there was no cellphone network in the area and their unemployed children could not find jobs.
Vimba Shabalala, from eKuvukeni in Ward 33, complained about several issues. Shabalala, who is disabled, said he had abandoned his house and gone to live with his aunt because sewage was spilling into his home.
“I also want to find out what happened to the proposals that 7% of people employed by the municipality must be disabled people. Here we are not told about vacancies, we only see people after they have been employed,” he said.
Ramaphosa allowed his ministers to respond to the complaints. Energy Minister Kgosientsho Ramakgopa said his department was slowly but surely sorting out rolling blackouts by getting all the faulty power stations in order and consistently lowering load shedding stages. He said his department was also looking for communities – with fewer than 200 households – where it could install solar electricity.
Minister of Water and Sanitation Senzo Mchunu said a number of water projects were under way in the uThukela District Municipality and others were in the pipeline.
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Ramaphosa thanked all those who attended the gathering, saying they had helped the government identify community needs. He said he would follow up on some of the concerns and complaints raised by the residents. He said Police Minister Bheki Cele would visit the community and talk to them about issues of stock theft, high levels of crime and the working of the local police stations.
He said under the new District Development Model, the national government would work with the provincial government to assist local government to complete critical service delivery projects.
“We have seen that in local government, there is a lack of capacity – there are fewer engineers and planners. This is why we want the national government to support the local government much more directly.
“In the past, we have seen funds for critical projects being returned to the national government, to the Treasury, because there is a lack of capacity in the local government,” he said. DM