Makhanda, formerly known as Grahamstown, has become a striking example of the collapse of a small town under the rule of the ANC. The story of the town’s descent into the mire has become international news and was reported, in some detail, by the Los Angeles Times on 5 May.
But despite – or perhaps because of – the crisis, President Cyril Ramaphosa paid a call to the town to woo residents with his main Freedom Day address at the Miki Yili Stadium in Joza township.
When New Frame visited the east of Makhanda, prior to Ramaphosa’s visit, residents’ homes were marked by dried-up smudges from open-sewer spillages. And because of poor water and sanitation infrastructure, people were unable to drink water because it made them ill.
On many street corners, rubbish had piled up because municipal workers had been on strike over a lack of protective clothing. To make matters worse, businesses had been affected for months by Eskom’s power cuts.
When Babalwa Dike opens her door in the mornings after rainy nights she is greeted by the remains of condoms, sanitary pads, shredded toilet paper, and other items flushed down toilets. The unhealthy mess means that flies and insects are constant visitors to her home.
The flow, which is accompanied by a sickening sewage smell, comes from a bubbling manhole at the corner of her house.
“How is your kakhuisie [shit house]?” is a question her neighbours and colleagues often ask Dike.
The 37-year-old policewoman moved in 2016 into one of the old police houses made of asbestos. She admits that she was warned of problems with the house, but says that she had – and has – nowhere else to go.
“The sewerage pipe even burst inside the house and it smelt so bad. I was living with my three-year-old daughter but I took her back home in Nqushu because of the sewer problem,” Dike recalls.
Dike first experienced the spillage in 2018. She claims she reported it to the municipality, who sent an inspect team. Thereafter Dike was told that the damage inside her home was not the municipality’s responsibility.
As a result of this, Dike feels let down by her municipality and her government.
“I am not going to vote,” she said. “Our votes are being abused. How can I vote when things are like this? The people we vote for live in nice houses and that’s why they don’t care about us.”
‘The water is on and off’
In another section of the township, Vuyolethu Makhabe, 35, is faced with a different set of problems. She and two other women walk the gravel road to Makhabe’s aunt’s house to fetch water.
“Yesterday we didn’t have water,” she said, adding that supply was unstable. “The water is on and off, we do not drink it because it is not treated properly. We use the water from the Jojo tank to drink and if you don’t have a Jojo tank you are forced to drink the tap water.”
Often people suffer from upset tummies and develop sores on their bodies when they drink untreated water.
The situation is so dire that the Makhabe family has filled up several two-litre plastic bottles with water because they fear that one day the taps will run dry.
When the community reports the matter to the municipality they are promised that the problem will be fixed. But this is not the case.
“They don’t care about us and as we head towards the elections, I have decided I am going to vote for the Economic Freedom Fighters and give Juju [Julius Malema] a chance because as it stands, we do not have a municipality.”
Water woes prompt vote rethinks
New Frame visited another resident, Fezeka Noqayi. Fed up with the municipality, Noqayi says that she too will use her vote to bring about change in her community. “I will vote, but for a new party. They [the ANC] have done nothing for me. Even the RDP [house] which they built [for] my father in 2005 is a mess,” she said, pointing at the cracks in the mint-coloured paint of the house.
“The previous administration did nothing. The one before this one also did nothing. The problem with the voters here is that they are old, and they still have that old mentality. They cannot see what is happening in front of their eyes.
“They just follow and vote for the ANC. Everyone that the ANC is giving us is either a crook or they are not the right person. My take is, even if they eat the money, they must give us something small. You cannot just take and take and take,” said Noqayi.
Unemployment, crime and discontent
Another issue plaguing the town is unemployment. Ayanda Kota of the Unemployed People’s Movement knows the people’s frustration all too well.
“When someone fights for water, they are not fighting service delivery, they are fighting for dignity. Even when we fight for jobs, it is our right. It is not a matter of services, it is a matter of life,” he said, adding that “Being unemployed strips you of your dignity. Even being at home becomes tricky because you get monitored because you are always home. It is a daily struggle.”
Kota says unemployment is another cause of crime. “It does not matter how many police stations you build, how many police officers you recruit, how much you increase the budget by, the bottom line is that you need to deal with the social ills,” he said.
There is a sense of discontent and people are losing hope, said Kota.“When people are on the brink of losing hope, it means those in power are not equal to [the] task. It means they must go. We are living in a failed city. Our municipality has failed us completely.”
The university currently known as Rhodes, which in recent years came under sustained criticism from students for racism and a failure to act effectively against sexual abuse, is feeling the effects of the collapse too. Along with South African Social Security Agency grants and elite private schools, the university keeps the town’s small economy going.
Neuton Amwiine, 24, a student from Uganda doing his honours degree in sociology, is more than a little cynical about the gestures towards change seen prior to today’s election.
“One thing that I have seen is that when it comes to campaigns and this season when they are looking for votes, they tend to cover up some things. They tend to cover up potholes and we all know that they are trying to look for votes.”
Shortly before Ramaphosa’s visit to Makhanda, residents reported that municipal workers could be seen frantically filling in potholes while bulldozers removed piles of rubbish.