Defend Truth


Poor service delivery: Ekurhuleni’s Thokoza hungers for the light to come


Jo-Mangaliso Mdhlela is a priest and journalist.

Why, if we have received our hard-earned liberation, do those in power feel it their duty to continue to oppress others – their own, subjecting them to pain and misery by failing to deliver the goods of freedom?

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

Thokoza, a filthy township about 50km east of Johannesburg, buzzes with life like a former freedom fighter – somewhat sprightly yet, deep in the inner chambers of her soul, she looks back forlornly to the heady years in which she waged, alongside other oppressed townships, her own collective liberation struggle to oust the tired and toothless old National Party auntie – the apartheid regime – from political power.

One draws inspiration from the great writers, such as Alan Paton. He writes the following in Cry, the Beloved Country: “Yes, it is the dawn that has come. The titihoya [a plover-like bird] wakes from its sleep, and goes about its work of forlorn crying. The sun tips with light the mountains of Angeli and East Griqualand.

“The great valley of Umzimkulu is still in darkness, but the light will come there. Ndotsheni is still in darkness, but the light will come also. For it is the dawn that has come, as it has come for a thousand centuries, never failing. But when that dawn will come, of our emancipation, from the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear, why, that is a secret.”

Paton talks to those who are oppressed under the yoke of injustice and promises that they should not abandon hope, for light, at its time of choosing, will come.


I think of these words when it seems to me we are regressing as a nation. Why, if we have received our hard-earned liberation, do those in power feel it their duty to continue to oppress others – their own, subjecting them to pain and misery by failing to deliver the goods of freedom?

The country groans for something better. Thokoza, a place I know well, groans too because it deserves better.

I live in the suburb of Benoni that goes by the name of Fairleads. When I first moved to the area nearly 20 years ago, there were no potholes; the streets were well maintained.

Today, two decades later, the same streets are in shambles. They have deep and undulating scars of neglect, and potholes of great shame. If Thokoza is suffering, she is not alone; the malady of poor administration runs deep, and has become malignant.

Today, the scorched-earth politics of warring parties in Thokoza have dissipated – the ANC and IFP mind their own business; the people who were at war with each coexist, as they should.

But there is no gainsaying that democracy as we should know it continues to elude those who run Ekurhuleni. The wellbeing of the community means very little to those who run our cities and townships. Service delivery is patchy and minimal.

A few months ago, a faithful parishioner coming for Mass in church said to me: “Father, if there is a foul odour about me, please forgive me… I have not had water nor electricity for several days.”

This is a constant refrain in all parts of the country: “No water, nor electricity.”

I have been a parish priest in Thokoza for nearly 10 years. I have seen tyres burnt and roads barricaded by angry protesters, and this too has been recurring, time after time, and season after season, without end and much reprieve. Why? Poor service delivery.

A better life

A parishioner said to me as we shared a drink the other day: “I love the ANC; this is my parents’ organisation… If they can only do what Tata Mandela would do … fulfil the promises of a better life for all, and act ethically, that will be good enough for me.”

I wonder whether the ANC’s leading officials hear these words too? If they hear them, what do they do about them? Do they appreciate that Nelson Mandela, their esteemed president, might be turning in his grave when he sees, with a broken heart, the people he suffered for on Robben Island suffering the pain of poor service delivery?  

Developed democracies suggest that “no person has a divine right to govern others”. So those who are entrusted with the duty to govern others, including the residents of Thokoza, should bear in mind that government can only be legitimate insofar as it rests on the consent of the governed.

The words Paton uses to create a mental picture of dawn and light are powerful. If he says Ndotsheni, his imaginary township, is still in darkness but that the light will come there, he is in fact saying the light must also come to Thokoza, where democracy has shone and manifested in 1994. We pray it does, for the people hunger for it. DM168

If you would like to share your experience of service delivery in the run-up to this year’s local government elections, please send your 600-word stories and byline picture to [email protected].

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.


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  • Rod H MacLeod says:

    Whilst the heartfelt message evokes feelings of anger and sympathy at once for South Africa, is it not a truism that in a democracy such as ours, we get the government we vote for?

    It has been 27 years, sir, of slip-sliding into dis-government, corruption and now anarchy. When will enough be enough for the die-hard ANC supporters of Thokoza? Why don’t they consider voting choices – after all, isn’t that what freedom is? The freedom to choose? Or are they forever trapped in a hand-me-down political warp that says “once an ANC man, always an ANC man, just like my father before me”?

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