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30 YEARS OF DEMOCRACY

Pearston’s new ward councillor not much of a talker, but intent on fixing Karoo towns

Pearston’s new ward councillor not much of a talker, but intent on fixing Karoo towns
Newly elected DA ward councillor Herbert Davenport on Pearston's main road, Voortrekker Street. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

At the end of April, for the first time in 30 years, the DA won a ward in the Karoo town of Pearston from the ANC. The party’s candidate has lived in the town for 60 years, got tired of his hometown’s problems, entered politics and soon after was out in the field to see how he could fix the town’s water crisis.

‘I am not much of a talker,” the new ward councillor for Pearston in the Blue Crane Municipality explains from behind his cluttered desk in the town’s liquor store.

Herbert Davenport has lived in the Karoo town since he was six months old and the Davenport family’s roots run deep in the community. 

“I was thinking I should leave. Things are so bad here. The only other choice was to get into politics and fix the problems,” he said.

At the end of April, he won a by-election in the Blue Crane Route Local Municipality and was elected in a ward that had been under ANC control for 30 years.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Patriotic Alliance shocks ANC, DA in Western Cape wards, local party bags historic win

The municipality includes KwaNojoli (formerly known as Somerset East), Cookhouse and Pearston.

According to the latest audit, it is doubtful that the municipality can continue doing business, because of extensive electricity losses, R4.8-million in irregular expenditure relating to the Pearston water purification system and material non-compliance with financial legislation, significant errors in financial statements and significant internal control deficiencies.

On 2 May, the municipality’s assets were attached and removed by the Sheriff of the High Court during a dispute filed by the South African Municipal Workers Union. In a notice to residents, the municipal manager, Mzwandile Nini, asked residents to “remain calm”. The municipality is fighting the order in the Makhanda High Court, and judgment was reserved.

The dispute relates to the municipality’s failure to pay more than R3.8-million in retirement fund contributions for municipal workers between 2007 and 2013. The union also claimed that it is owed R22-million in interest. This led to the seizure of municipal assets.

A by-election had to be held in Pearston after ward councillor Mncedi Mali suddenly resigned. Davenport’s victory means that the ANC and the DA now hold five seats each in the Blue Crane Municipality in KwaNojoli.

“I was never into politics, but because things were so bad in Pearston, I thought I would have to make a plan. I also wanted to move, but now people say it is God’s will that I stay. I want to fix things,” he said.

Besides the liquor store, Davenport owns the town’s petrol station. His family used to own the hotel as well, but he got tired of listening to late-night drunken conversations and sold it.

A week after his election, he and a team of retired artisans went into the field to visit the pump stations around the town. They devised a plan to fix leaks and calculated where more pumps were needed.

Davenport said the town’s water problems were made worse by a water purification plant built by the municipality. 

The main road in the Karoo town of Pearston. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

Members of the plumbing team put together by Herbert Davenport pop in to provide feedback. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

Herbert Davenport’s fuel station in Pearston is as neat as a pin. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

The fuel station in Pearston. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

The road leading into Pearston from Somerset East. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

Donations

“We have the backing of the farmers’ association and are also asking for donations to help us with water. It won’t be R1 or R2. It will be expensive to turn this situation around. Some people in Khanyiso have been living without water for seven years. Old people are carrying water from tanks. My goal is to fix the water as soon as possible. I am not someone who likes delays,” he said.

As he spoke, parts of the town were in the grips of a three-week water outage. “I would love to know why nothing is being done,” Davenport said. “There are nine boreholes here. The whole town is built on an underground lake. There shouldn’t be any problems here.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: 2024 elections

But only two of the town’s boreholes are working, with pumps that Davenport paid for himself. So Davenport and “Uncle Sarel Cilliers” are walking the lines and seeing what must be fixed.

“When the DA asked me to stand, I told them I don’t like meetings. I usually make a fool of myself at these things. I said I am a person who likes to do things. I don’t talk a lot. So that is what I do now. I go to the pumps, I check, and I get advice.

“I want to be in service delivery, not politics. I have grown up in front of many people in this town, and many grew up in front of me. One of the women who worked for us for many years is struggling with her legs and with walking, and she is one of the people who has to carry water,” he says.

When he won the by-election, he was told there would be a motorcade in his honour.

“I was expecting maybe 10 cars, but 30 cars came. People were running along the cars and singing and chanting,” Davenport said. “It was very good. In the ops room, a woman started crying. It was the first time in 30 years that the DA won a ward from the ANC.

“I promised the community that a third of my paycheck would be deposited in a special account to help fix the water in the town.”

But he is not one to gloat. “I know the people who support the ANC, and they are hurt.

“I think what will help us is that the farming community is passionate about preserving Pearston.”

He said the other urgent issue was the town’s extensive electricity problem. 

In its integrated development plan (IDP), the Blue Crane Route Local Municipality admitted that it did not have an approved Water Services Development Plan. There are 10,604 households in the municipality. 

Pearston residents get their water from boreholes only, and according to the IDP, an augmented water supply project was started to ensure more water security for Pearston.

The IDP stated that two boreholes in the town do not function due to vandalism, a lack of electrical connection and budget constraints. A follow-up project has been initiated to complete Phase 2 of the water supply in Pearston.

But even the water truck providing emergency water, Davenport said, did not always make all the required stops.

“Even the locks on the pump station gates don’t close properly. You just need a welding machine to fix it,” he said. DM

Daily Maverick’s Election 2024 coverage is supported, in part, with funding from the Friedrich Naumann Foundation and vehicles supplied by Ford.

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • William Dryden says:

    Don’t worry the ANC will recommend a vote of no confidence to try and get rid of Davenport, as he will become an embarrassment to them in showing how municipalities should be run by hands on well educated people.

  • Barrie Lewis says:

    All the signs are positive but it will be a massive job to undo 30 years of incompetence and theft from Pearston’s budget. If the DA can do it in the Blue Crane, it can be fixed anywhere.
    We wish you God speed Mr Davenport. It will be equivalent to the walls of Jericho falling.

  • David Bristow says:

    ‘n Boer maak ‘n plan. Thank the gods we have the likes of Herbert Davenport to help fix this broken land. At least there are 5 non-ANC reps to balance the books.

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