The four-roomed wooden house in Thaba Nchu stands in the winter sun casting a long shadow on the former Bophuthatswana homeland in the Free State. Constructed more than three decades ago, the makeshift structures were meant to house families temporarily until the former government allocated proper housing.
Dilapidated from years of use, the home of Keneilwe Lekhaliso, 33, and her family of three slants precariously at the corner of Maphe Street in Selosesha, a suburb of Thaba Nchu.
Quiet cracks map out the corners of Lekhaliso’s humble abode, which was built before she was born. But it is the wood used to build the makeshift structure that fuels her fears of seeing her home burn to the ground.
Like most of the inhabitants of Thaba Nchu, Lekhaliso is unemployed and lives on her children’s social grant. “There is never enough food,” she says.
Apparently, former president Thabo Mbeki was one of the many politicians who descended on Ward 40 ahead of the 2004 general elections, promising houses and jobs. Eleven years after Mbeki’s tenure came to an end, residents are still waiting for proper housing. “There is no development in the community,” Lekhaliso says, “and most of the manufacturing firms have shut down.”
Bophuthatswana was one of the apartheid government’s 10 homelands, which were areas to which the majority of the African population were moved to prevent them from living in urban areas of South Africa. They came out of the “reserves” established by British colonial forces in the early 1900s.
Ciskei and Transkei were “given” to the Xhosa people, while Bophuthatswana was created for the Tswana people. KwaZulu was for Zulu people, Lebowa for the Pedi and Northern Ndebele. Venda was for Vendas, Gazankulu was for the Shangaan and Tsonga people and QwaQwa was for Basothos.
Established in 1961, Bophuthatswana was granted independence by the South African government in 1977 but wasn’t internationally recognised. The territory constituted a scattered patchwork of enclaves that spread across the then Cape Province, Orange Free State and Transvaal. Its seat of government was Mmabatho, which today is a suburb of Mahikeng.
Thaba Nchu’s manufacturing sector
A 10-minute walk leads Lekhaliso to a block of dormant businesses with battered roofs located in Unit 1. The companies, which manufactured clothes, shoes and cookware, collapsed shortly after the 1994 elections. Some of the buildings have been reduced to ruins.
On 11 February 2019, locals marched to the Free State Development Corporation in Bloemfontein demanding answers about the lack of economic development in the area.
They say although the state has built reconstruction and development programme (RDP) houses, it is yet to confront unemployment. This is despite the launch of the N8 Corridor initiative, which aims to improve connections, stimulate economic activity and improve the delivery of services and housing to Free State citizens, particularly those living in Thaba Nchu and its neighbour, Botshabelo.
Locals stuck in unsafe houses
Down the street from Lekhahliso, Thembekile Sake, 35, has abandoned one of the bedrooms of her four-roomed, red-brick house. Sake lives with her two children in a house built by the former government that is on the verge of collapse. “We no longer use the second bedroom because when it’s windy, the bricks are falling out.”
Years of neglect are evident in the holes in the cement floors and the gaping cracks, which let light seep in from outside. “When it rains, our furniture is immersed in water,” Sake explains. In an effort to stop the winter wind from howling through the house, old red tights are stuffed into the cracks. The house’s roof is made from asbestos.
In addition to dilapidating infrastructure and increasing unemployment, some of the locals of Unit 1 in Thaba Nchu are still trying to obtain the title deeds for bond houses leased on a rent-to-buy contract by the former government.
When the Bophuthatswana Housing Corporation was amalgamated into South Africa in 1994, people stopped paying because there was confusion about to whom to make the payments.
The involvement of the Free State
The spokesperson for the Free State Department of Human Settlements, Senne Bogatsu, said 258 title deeds have been registered and 86 issued to beneficiaries whose properties are paid up.
“The complex administrative process for these title deeds to be registered and finally transferred to beneficiaries has contributed to the delay. These processes, which include the North West Housing Corporation, Mangaung Metro Municipality and ourselves among others, means that it has to be regularised so that all aspects relating to these houses are harmonised to have title deeds registered in the beneficiaries’ names and then issued.
“To this effect, the North West Housing Corporation is in the process of verifying the list of all houses and categorising them into properties that were bought and those that were leased in order to prepare for the registration process and finally handing over these to beneficiaries,” she explained.
In relation to the residents still living in wooden houses in Ward 40, the department has registered the requirements of locals on the national housing needs register.
“The department has a programme for rectification of dilapidated houses, including houses with asbestos roofs. This is a provincial programme with a small budget and thus cannot reach all those in need simultaneously. We are progressively attending to a number of houses yearly.”
QwaQwa in dire straits
Located in the eastern Free State, the former homeland of QwaQwa was granted semi self-governance in 1974. Kenneth Mopeli was chief minister. In 1975, Mopeli founded the Dikwanketla Party of South Africa. Its current leader, Moeketsi Lebesa, said locals in the former homeland are subjected to degenerating and decaying road infrastructure, inaccessible roads and an ageing water system.
“Due to lack of water management skills, the water infrastructure is in a sorry state. The biggest dam has not been maintained. Despite QwaQwa being the source of water for the whole country, the people of QwaQwa do not have potable drinking water. They rely on [tanks] of water.”
Water scarcity is worsened by regular power failures because the electricity infrastructure has collapsed. The network has not been upgraded, refurbished or maintained.
“The schools and other government buildings have been vandalised. The well-known Tshiya College of Education has been ruined. Charles Mopeli, the second-biggest soccer stadium in the country with a seating capacity of 80 000, is dilapidated.”
Houses built by the Mopeli administration at Modulaqua in QwaQwa were unlawfully occupied by residents shortly after 1994. With no proper record-keeping, some of the deeds are being disputed while other houses have been vandalised.
The former homeland remains a battleground of contending dooms: AIDS is rife and rampant poverty means many go hungry day after day. Joblessness has led to crime and squatting while corruption, nepotism and looting hints at the breakdown of the social contract. Disintegrating roads, water shortages and power failures have become the norm. A lingering drought worsens the plight of all.