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ROAD TO 2024 ELECTIONS

Dashed hopes – the Giyani villages that refuse to vote after years of government failure

Dashed hopes – the Giyani villages that refuse to vote after years of government failure
Phephu Methubula and her neighbours have to walk for more than two hours in the heat to collect water for their families in Mahlathi village, Limpopo. (Photo: Julia Evans)

Villagers of Greater Giyani say that since the 1994 elections, ‘I don’t see any change, I see a worse thing’.

On 27 April 1994, 19.5 million people in South Africa stood in queues stretching more than 1km to cast their votes in the nation’s inaugural democratic elections. 

One of those people was Cocks Tshabalala, who was 25 when he got the opportunity to cast a vote for the first time.

Speaking to Daily Maverick in Ndindani, a small village in Greater Giyani, Limpopo, Tshabala said that when he cast his first vote for the ANC 30 years ago, “I was feeling happy because I did not know what would happen with those people. I was wishing that they would change a lot of things.”

The 1994 elections had a staggering 86.9% voter turnout, and the ANC took the majority with 63% of the vote.

“But since[then], I don’t see any change,” said Tshabalala, now 55 and still living in the same village in which he was born. “I see a worse thing – they are stealing money, they are taking the money [meant for] infrastructure and using it carelessly.”

Ndindani is one of several villages that line the 20km D3810 dirt road in the Greater Giyani Municipality. Located on the outskirts of the town of Giyani in Limpopo, villages like Ndindani are notoriously underserved by the government.

Since 1969, the only change residents have seen is access to electricity. Water, sanitation and a road suitable for their main sources of transport – donkey carts and taxis – have remained elusive despite numerous promises from the government.

Cocks Tshabalala was born in Ndindani Village, Limpopo, in 1979. (Photo: Julia Evans)

Daily hunt for water 

While the initial drive out of the town of Giyani to the surrounding villages consists of smooth tarred road, the turnoff onto the D3810 that leads to the villages quickly turns into a long, undulating dirt road.

About 2km along the dirt road we pass Mahlathi village, where residents have congregated around a hose connected to a burst pipe surrounded by several 20-litre containers as they patiently wait their turn to collect water.

“This pipe is from the municipality but we made our own connection when the pipe burst. If we were doing this with electricity they would call us Izinyoka (which means electricity thief in isiZulu), but there is no word for illegal water connections,” one of the villagers said.

The Mopani District Municipality is responsible for providing water to the Greater Giyani Municipality, but about 41 villages do not have access to water in their homes, and in many cases, from communal taps. Ndindani and Mahlathi are among these villages. 

The Giyani Bulk Water Project was meant to address the lack of access to water upon its long-lapsed completion date in 2017. But seven years later, tender irregularities and alleged corruption have rendered it a failure despite almost R4-billion in public funds spent.

Phephu Metubula and her neighbours have to travel for over an hour one way in the high heat to collect water for their families, Mahlathi Village, Greater Giyani, Limpopo. (Photo: Julia Evans)

Phephu Metubula was pushing a wheelbarrow with two big plastic containers when she approached Daily Maverick, having just travelled an hour and a half to this makeshift waterpoint in 35°C heat.

“I am old and I live alone. I don’t have anybody who can collect the water for me,” she explained. “I have to push this heavy wheelbarrow just to collect one container of water every day (or) we don’t drink anything.”

Metubula has lived in Mahlathi her entire life and doesn’t remember a time when her village had water running through its taps.

Giyani

Residents collect unclean water from an old municipality-owned reservoir, between Mahlathi and Ndindani, which is overflowing and has not been connected to residents’ houses. (Photo: Julia Evans)

The water from the burst pipe originates from a municipality-owned reservoir between Mahlathi and Ndidani. Although it is overflowing, the reservoir does not supply water to the many surrounding households it was meant to service. 

While collecting the water spilling from the reservoir, Nelly Mabasa expressed frustration over the community’s 15-year struggle for access to water. Mabasa said they could not simply pass by as the hard-to-come-by resource spills from the reservoir.

“The municipality has dug the holes and is still installing the pipes, but no water comes out,” she explained, adding: “We didn’t cause the reservoir to overflow but we will come here and collect the water.”

Outside a spaza shop, every day a group of unemployed men pass the time talking and playing indigenous games under a makeshift gazebo, Ndindani Village, Limpopo. (Photo: Julia Evans)

While speaking to Mabasa, Helen Mdluli, another Mahlathi resident, pulled up alongside Daily Maverick in a car, with her next-door neighbour, Glenda Nkuna, and young children, eager to share her story with us.

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘No road no vote’ say angry Limpopo residents in face of chronic service delivery failings

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘We won’t stop’ — Limpopo villagers ramp up fight for a tarred road

Locals collect water from burst pipes and sell to their neighbours, who otherwise would not get water, Mahlathi Village, Limpopo. (Photo: Julia Evans)

Pointing to the reservoir, she explained that it is supposed to supply all of them, and they are busy installing pipes to go into their houses. But Mdluli and the rest of the community don’t trust that that will happen. 

“There is no tank, there is no water supply, there is no water truck. There is no water – totally,” she said emphatically.

Residents also resort to buying water – paying between R1 and R8 per 25l – from neighbours with boreholes or those who make a living by collecting water from the Hudson Ntsanwisi Dam 25km away. Those who can afford it spend an average of R224 per week on 700l, a significant expense for many unemployed villagers.

Whether residents have to buy water or travel to get it, it’s a challenge, either due to the 9.8% unemployment rate, or having to travel on a 20km dirt road by car, donkey cart or on foot.

Motioning to her body, Metubula, who sometimes travels three hours a day with her wheelbarrow on the gravel road to collect water, said: “You can see my body is tired. I no longer have the strength to carry on. We are tired because we are old. This is my biggest burden; we are suffering.”

‘No road, no vote’

Mbatini Mashele knows the D3810 road very well. Born and bred in Mahlathi village, he now lives just 5km down the dirt road in Ndindani village. There, he works as a taxi driver, shuttling his community along the dirt road to and from the main town and to collect water. By the time they get to their destination, Mashele says his customers’ clothes are often covered in dust. 

“When we go into the town, you can have a bath now and when you go inside the taxi, in 10 minutes you will be very, very dirty,” said Tshabalala.

Mashele said: “Our people get in with a towel so they can cover themselves up. When they arrive in town they take off the towel so they can look better. Because if it’s not like that, everything is dirty.”

The state of the dusty, bumpy road makes it near impossible to drive when it’s raining, and their taxis – which they just bought – have been weathered to look a decade old.

Come 29 May, Mashele said he would not be voting, explaining that the surrounding villages have decided “no road, no vote” – meaning that due to the government’s failure to tar a road, they will be withholding their vote.

Helen Mdluli from Mahlathi village said the same, explaining that when they do vote, “people are eating the money, they don’t make anything for us”.

Mashele said the state of the roads hasn’t improved since he was born there. Residents have been trying to engage with their local and national government since 2008, even going all the way to the previous deputy president, David Mabuza.

“He promised us that they will construct our road in 2019. And nothing has happened,” he said.

“We are not going to vote because we are not happy!” said Methubula, the older lady collecting water. Pointing to the gravel road, she said: “Look at this road, you can see for yourself that nothing is okay. And when we complain, no one responds.”

Mbatini Mashele is a taxi driver in Ndindani Village shuttling his community along the dirt road to and from the main town and to collect water. (Photo: Julia Evans)

‘We can’t trust anyone any longer’

Asked if they would consider voting for someone else, the sense was that they do not trust other parties to fulfil their promises either.

“Since now, we haven’t thought of anyone [else to vote for] because we think they have lied to us,” said Mashele, explaining that the EFF, DA, APC and UDM have all visited their village on their election campaigns.

He said that if a party came and delivered a road, then maybe they would consider voting, “but now we can’t trust anyone any longer”.

David Ndlovu took over the spaza shop from his father, Ndindani Village, Limpopo. (Photo: Julia Evans)

Unemployment comes to a head

If you pass a spaza shop in Ndindani village any day of the week, you will find a group of men, young and old, in the yard outside, talking, laughing and enthusiastically playing traditional games under a makeshift gazebo.

The shop owner, David Ndlovu, told us that because of the high unemployment rate, people often mill about outside his shop, trying to pass the time. 

Mahlathi and Ndindani are in Ward 19 of the Greater Giyani Municipality, which has a formal employment rate of 9.8% and an average annual household income of just R7,200.

“They come here early in the morning and we play [mancala] together,” Ndlovu explained. “We sit here together from morning until sunset and by the end of the day they haven’t had anything to eat.”

The shop owner said he takes pity on the men and often dips into his own stock to provide them with something to eat and drink at the end of the day – “even if they go home, they have nothing to eat, so I sacrifice by giving them cold drinks and bread, but it costs me greatly, but I’m giving them free food from my shop”.

Ndlovu moved to Ndindani after his father died in 1990, taking over the operation of the shop the latter started in 1976.

The shop, filled with basic food items such as maize meal, tinned fish, sweets and other non-perishables, is one of nine spaza shops in the area, and thus an integral part of the underserved community. Otherwise residents have to travel 40km, or an hour by taxi, to the nearest shopping centre in Giyani.

A father and son sell water collected a burst pipe to fellow residents who don’t have access to running water, Mahlathi Village, Limpopo. (Photo: Julia Evans)

Ndlovu said that because many of the village residents are unemployed, he allows them to buy food on credit and settle what they owe when their grant payments come in. 

Tshabalala, who doesn’t have stable employment but works part-time on a farm nearby, and whatever piece work he can get, added: “Most of our children are lingering all over the country. They are not working… they’ve got stress from not working.”

Tshabalala said that in a year his household must survive on a budget of R5,000, which takes a long time to earn, because of the lack of jobs.

“Sometimes you get a piece job which can give you R2,000… [but with] that R2,000, you’re supposed to buy bread, food for your children and clothes. How can you budget such a small amount?” he asked.

If you pass a spaza shop in Ndindani village any day of the week, you will find a group of men in the yard outside, enthusiastically playing the traditional game ‘mancala’ under a makeshift gazebo. (Photo: Julia Evans)

Read more in Daily Maverick: 2024 elections

“The government has let us down and then we end up thinking that we don’t belong to the country,” reflected Mashele.

Asked if things had changed since 1994, Mashele said: “Not at all. We are not enjoying the new democracy – we even think that the previous government is better than this one.”

He recalls running after graders who smoothed roads when he was a young boy, and collecting water from taps along the road that had water coming out of them.

“But since we’ve grown up there are no longer those things.” 

Asked if he’d ever move, Mashele said: “You see, we love the area… when you are born and bred in the same place, you end up enjoying the place, even though it’s difficult to live with the conditions that we are experiencing.” DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R35.

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