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ROAD TO 2024 ELECTIONS

Groblersdal and its township — a tale straight out of the old South Africa

Groblersdal and its township — a tale straight out of the old South Africa
Groblersdal is a farming town in Limpopo that has faced racial tension in recent months. (Photo: Julia Evans)

While legislated racism may have been eradicated after South Africa’s first democratic election in 1994, a racial hierarchy still permeates the town, echoes of the legacy left behind by the apartheid regime.

Driving through the small Limpopo farming town of Groblersdal is a bit like turning back the clock 30 years.

Residents say racial tensions between white and black communities are still very much embroidered in the town’s social fabric.

“There’s still that racism in Groblersdal. You can’t even chat with a white lady because you will be in danger,” 47-year-old Steven Mohlala said. “It makes me feel bad.”

Mohlala was speaking to Daily Maverick on a fairway at the Groblersdal Golf Club, where he has worked as a caddy for more than 20 years. He lives in Motetema township, on the outskirts of Groblersdal.

Groblersdal is part of Ward 13 in Elias Motsoaledi Local Municipality. A snapshot of the area doesn’t look too bad — 67% of the roughly 4,000 people residing in the ward are employed, and more than 90% of the ward has access to water from a regional or local service provider, and chemical or flush toilets.

Groblersdal

Steven Mohlala has worked as a caddy at Groblersdal Golf Club for more than 20 years. (Photo: Julia Evans)

In Groblersdal, the clean, paved roads that connect the well-maintained suburbs are free of potholes.

But just 10km from the town’s centre is Motetema township, where the reality is very different. 

As you drive out of Groblersdal, the roads become worse for wear, with trucks swerving around potholes as they drive past the citrus and grape farms the area is known for, and vendors selling fruit and firewood at makeshift stalls on the side of the road.

On the dirt road that leads into Motetema, there are informal dwellings, some made of corrugated iron, and formal, bigger houses in gated developments.

Street vendors on the side of the road going out of Groblersdal. The Limpopo town is known for growing crops such as citrus fruits, cotton, tobacco and grain. (Photo: Julia Evans)

Groblersdal

Street vendors on the side of the road going out of Groblersdal. The Limpopo town is known for growing crops such as citrus fruits, cotton, tobacco and grain. (Photo: Julia Evans)

Core challenges

Rebbeca Makota was born in Motetema in 1979. As Daily Maverick walked towards her, where she was sitting with her neighbours around a fire, a snake slithered from under a pile of firewood and a group of young men jumped up and chased it. Makota was unfazed. She was more interested in speaking to us about the core challenges that her community faces — water, roads and employment.

“We don’t have water,” Makota said. Sometimes they get water from JoJo tanks, “but we often go two to three weeks without having access to water. 

“We can go without a lot of things, but not water. We need water to bath, we need water to cook. We need water to do a lot of things.”

Makota said they also needed formal roads and access to transport. Children in the community have to travel far to get to school and for some, it takes up to two hours. 

There are several citrus farms surrounding the town of Groblersdal in Limpopo. (Photo: Julia Evans)

“Most of the time they walk to school because we don’t have enough money for [transport]. The money we get from Sassa [South African Social Security Agency] is only enough to buy food,” she said. 

Motetema is part of Ward 31, where only 33% of the nearly 8,500 residents are employed. While 85% of the residents have access to water from a regional or local service provider, 23% have to use pit toilets without ventilation.

“We don’t even have jobs. Many of us stay at home and take care of the children because there is no employment,” said Makota, who has been unemployed since December last year after she broke a finger and had to stop working. 

The 45-year-old takes care of her mother and her late sister’s children and stretches the child support grants she receives for her three children to sustain her family of eight.

Groblersdal is a farming town in Limpopo, known for growing crops such as citrus fruits, grapes, cotton, tobacco and grain. (Photo: Julia Evans)

A town divided by race

Groblersdal made headlines on 22 January when a group of farmers who were part of the Afrikaner right-wing Bittereinders movement marched to the Groblersdal Magistrates’ Court carrying the old Transvaal flag. They were supporting Piet Groenewald and his stepson Stefan Greeff, who were charged with assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm after allegedly attacking their employee Veneruru Kavari.

The Bittereinders’ Facebook page contains the group’s motto which, loosely translated from Afrikaans, reads: “The movement that unashamedly fights exclusively for Afrikaner/Boer interests. We will be free again.”

Limpopo police said that Kavari was on guard duty at a network tower battery in Kwaggafontein, Mpumalanga on 17 January, when his supervisor accused him of being drunk. 

SAPS spokesperson Colonel Malesela Ledwaba said the supervisor took Kavari to his manager, Groenewald, in Groblersdal where the two got into an argument and Groenewald hit Kavari with a hard object.

“The manager [Groenewald] allegedly instructed a male relative to unleash their pet dog on the victim. The dog bit the victim on both legs,” Ledwaba said.

In response to the incident and the waving of the apartheid-era flag, the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) held a march outside the Groblersdal Magistrates’ Court on 7 February.

Mohlala said that some of the Bittereinder members played golf at the club where he works.

“But we don’t speak out here because we are afraid,” Mohlala said. “We need money, we need to survive. If we speak out, they will chase us away, so it’s better to keep quiet.”

Many people have goats and chickens for subsistence farming in Motetema, just outside Groblersdal in Limpopo. (Photo: Julia Evans)

Rebecca Makota in front of her home in Motetema, a township on the outskirts of Groblersdal in Limpopo. (Photo: Julia Evans)

In the ward in which Motetema is located, the average annual income is R30,000, compared with the R117,000 average income for the ward that Groblersdal is in.

While legislated racism may have been eradicated after South Africa’s first democratic election in 1994, a racial hierarchy still permeates the town, echoes of the legacy left behind by the apartheid regime. 

Some community members’ aversion to discussing racial tensions was evident when Daily Maverick stopped at the informal market in Groblersdal’s CBD.  

Makwena Thlala (47) greeted us with a smile but made it clear that the topic of race was off the table. “I remember what happened in February. It wasn’t nice, and I don’t want to talk about it,” Thlala said matter-of-factly.

Thlala has lived in Groblersdal her entire life. “Groblersdal is like any other place in South Africa. We have our problems, but you get used to them. It’s home at the end of the day,” Thlala said.

She sells indigenous food, edible clay, cigarettes and steel wool and pointed out that not many people in her community are as lucky as she is. “Employment is a very big problem here. People don’t have jobs, but the government is trying to help with that.”

Thlala said that while many people who live in the town did not have problems with access to water or well-maintained roads, the reality was very different in the surrounding townships. 

The township of Motetema was established in 1968 following the Group Areas Act, which forced natives from a white area, Groblersdal, to surrounding areas. There is still racial tension in the area. (Photo: Julia Evans)

‘After elections, things go back to normal’

The street lamps in Groblersdal are festooned with election posters.

In the last national elections in 2019, the ANC won 71.32% of the votes, the EFF got 17.09%, the DA 6.65% and the FF+ 1.32%.

“Eish, when elections come around, things seem to change because the government knows that people are going to be voting, they fix things here and there,” Rebecca Makota said.

“But after the elections, things go back to normal, things no longer work and it seems like we are just going backwards.”

Her son Kgopotso Makota (22) echoed these sentiments, saying the promises the government was making now about the end of load shedding would not last. 

“After we vote on 29 May, everything is going to start again,” he said.

Meshack Mokwana (38) says he has many jobs – an electrician, handyman or any part-time job he can find. (Photo: Julia Evans)

‘I’m voting for the ANC because…’

But, both mother and son said they would vote for the ANC. 

“I don’t deny that there are people in the ANC who are busy with corruption and stealing,” Rebecca Makota acknowledged, “but the party has done a lot to make our lives better.”

She noted that before the ANC came to power, Motetema didn’t have electricity, there weren’t enough schools, and her community couldn’t get social grants. 

“Now at least we can buy clothes for our children to wear. Not everything in this country works, but at least the ANC tried,” she said.

Her son, who will be voting for the first time, said he was putting his faith in the ANC because the party has done a lot for his community. 

“The ANC helps a lot of people. They help schoolchildren by giving them bursaries and they help unemployed people by giving them money,” he said, referring to the R350 Social Relief of Distress grant. “Even our grandparents can now receive Sassa grants.”

But while the Makotas recognised what the ruling party had provided, they were emphatic about what was still needed. 

From left: Lefa Selota (18), Kgopotso Makota (22) and Meshack Mokwana (38) in Motetema, just outside Groblersdal. (Photo: Julia Evans)

‘Our kids need jobs’

“If only the government can help us by giving us jobs, then the money we get from grants and working will be enough to take care of our children, and our lives can move forward,” Rebecca Makota said.

Kgopotso Makoto, who is unemployed, said many of the young people in Motetema and the surrounding townships were unemployed and job prospects in the area were limited.

“You work on the farms, in retail or for the municipality. The farms are picky, and they usually choose foreigners because they are cheap labour. The municipality is corrupt, and many people need to pay bribes to get jobs there.”

Elias Motsoaledi Municipality workers install electricity cables in Motetema township, on the outskirts of Groblersdal. (Photo: Lerato Mutsila)

Makwena Thlahka (right) is a street vendor who sells steel wool, indigenous eating clay and other food in Groblersdal. (Photo: Julia Evans)

A busy market road in Groblersdal, where racial tension has escalated in recent months. (Photo: Julia Evans)

His friend, 18-year-old Lefa Selota, said he would vote for the EFF. “I trust EFF. I believe that they are the only party that can sort out the issues we are facing here in Motetema.

“We want jobs, we want water, we want roads,” the unemployed teen said before leaving to sell firewood in Groblersdal. 

“Our kids need jobs,” said Mohlala, the caddy. “Most of the people here that have jobs are over 50 years old … but our young ones can’t find jobs — they are struggling.”

When asked which party he would vote for, Mohlala repeated the slogan popularised back in 1994.

“Hey! That’s my secret! My vote is my secret,” Mohlala said. DM

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

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

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Pieter van de Venter says:

    And …..? After 30 years of NP government, the economy overheated. The work week was shortened from 5.5 days to 5 days.

    After 30 years of overwhelming ANC government, this still uses terms like “race”, “apartheid”, etc. Who is in government? The white farmers that kept on working and at least surviving, or the ANC?

    Who is to blame?

    • Tumelo Tumelo says:

      There is a vileness that still permeates through a section of our society in South Africa: a vileness steeped in not wanting to understand and acknowledge centuries old organised disrespect and dehumanisation. I cannot believe I have to say this, the history of this country did not begin 1994. This wilful ignorance causes people like you to type such embarrassing, as you have done. Please educate yourself.

      • td _a says:

        i cannot + will not ever speak in favour of direct or subtle racism such as from this person who commented before you.
        however, racists are given a lot of fuel because of the corruption & incompetence of the ANC. this drives even larger divisions in our society.
        for me as a white person it is shocking that the black elite can be so corrupt & live in luxury while their people suffer like this.
        to fight racism – we must also fight this classism that has emerged

        • Jean Racine says:

          One can -and many do – criticise the corruption and incompetence of the ANC without resorting to racism. Absent ANC maladroitness, racists would still harbour such vile views, and merely find other excuses to voice. We should not coddle them.

    • Sihle Sigwebela says:

      Disgusting

  • Rod H MacLeod says:

    “If only the government can help us by giving us jobs, then the money we get from grants and working will be enough to take care of our children, and our lives can move forward.”

    And there you have it – grant recipients do not see getting income from a job as replacing their grants, they see income from a job as an enhancement of their grant income. Thus a Basic Income Grant, when it is introduced, will never be terminated, and the existing grant structure, too, will never end – even the Covid relief grant which continues to this day.

  • Agf Agf says:

    And so they continue to vote for the ANC………again and again and again. Pathetic!

    • Dashen Naicker says:

      “With laconic lucidity, Agf Agf shifts the narrative focus from the people setting their dogs on others to people voting. A remarkable achievement”.
      Andre Stink

      “Few writers can use the impersonal pronoun ‘they’ with such vitriol. It creates a visceral dichotomy. Superb writing”.
      The Independent

      “I told Agf Agf that the ellipsis has three dots, but they said they knew better than some foncy Arts graduate and threw a water bottle at me”.
      Agf Agf’s editor

  • Deon Botha-Richards says:

    The end of apartheid did not end race laws. In 1994 there were around 120 race laws

    Today there are over 140. The current government has passed more race laws that the apartheid government did.

  • Ivan van Heerden says:

    This is the tragedy that the ANC has sold to the uneducated voter. That the grants they get come from the ANC and no-one else.

    This lie is what is going to perpetuate the foul legacy of that putrid party

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