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Open Letter from Mahlathi Village, Limpopo: We need a cure for Insulation Syndrome

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Israel Nkuna is a ward committee representative and community activist in Mahlathi Village, Limpopo.

We in Mahlathi Village have an exposure problem – exposure to service delivery failures and broken roads, whereas government ministers and public representatives have the opposite problem – insulation syndrome, caused by spending too much time cocooned in comfort. 

Dear government ministers and other elected officials,

I am worried about you. Have you seen a doctor for a check-up recently? 

Not to get too personal, but is it possible you are suffering from a medical condition? We must try to get to the bottom of whatever it is that’s causing your nerves to die off. It’s clear you can’t see and can’t feel anymore.

We don’t have a doctor in Mahlathi village, so we’re quite used to diagnosing illnesses ourselves. Allow me to offer a little medical assistance: I believe you have something called Insulation Syndrome. It’s very different to the sorts of problems we have in Mahlathi in Limpopo, where many of us have the opposite – an exposure problem, that is exposure to water shortages, clinic shortages, housing shortages, toilet shortages, broken schools and broken roads. 

Insulation Syndrome is caused by spending too much time in air-conditioned luxury cars and in official residences with tax-payer funded backup power from generators, in designer jackets, sunglasses, hotel rooms and with private medical care. 

If only you could get to Mahlathi and experience for yourselves what we are exposed to, maybe your condition would clear up. 

But how would you get here? 

The D3810 road is in such a bad state that maybe luxury air-conditioned cars aren’t able to drive on it. One of you, DD Mabuza, promised us a brand new road, but then he disappeared down a different one.

Never mind, perhaps a helicopter could drop you off in Mahlathi, then it’s a short walk to Mahlathi B, where I could introduce you to its residents. 

Most of our neighbours in Mahlathi B came from Mozambique, but they’ve been here long enough that we think of them as locals. Unfortunately, Home Affairs doesn’t agree, and some of them who have been here for 30 years still don’t have IDs. That means they can’t apply for SRD, disability or child support grants, or other government services.

Their children don’t have IDs, so they get up to Grade 11, then have to drop out because they can’t register for matric exams.

Maybe I’m being a little unfair. Some Mahlathi B residents do have their IDs, and have the privilege (or is it a right, I forget?) to vote. What they don’t have the right to is government housing or toilets. 

So, yes, make sure you “go” before you come to Mahlathi B, and check the weather – the grass-and-mud shelters don’t tend to hold up so well in heavy rains.

Oh, while you’re at it, remember to bring your own bottled water. Our borehole has been broken for months, so we buy our water from private sellers with working boreholes. Bring a bit of cash if you need to top up your Valpré bottle.

But now, thinking of you having to helicopter around the country does make me wonder whether Mahlathi is one of a kind, or whether there are other villages like ours. If so, the Insulation Syndrome is worse than I thought.

If only we could offer you some real medical treatment. Unfortunately, as I mentioned, Mahlathi village doesn’t have a doctor or a clinic. But if you’re just patient, maybe we could produce a qualified GP from our community. It’s just that our secondary school is falling down at the moment, and we don’t have a library, so self-study is not an option.

But maybe, if you make it here, we could break through your insulation by telling you what we are exposed to. Maybe we need a meeting – only, we don’t have a community hall to meet in, so it will have to be under the trees, weather permitting.

Come and meet us, politicians… anyone. Learn about our lives, learn the names of the people of Mahlathi village. Just don’t ask for our IDs because some of us have been waiting years for them.

Wishing you good health. DM/MC

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