'Child grants, pensions, free houses, roads and peace'

Justice Malala

Justice Malala

Mmachidi Maria Kgatla shook her head vigorously and wagged her finger.

"They cannot get rid of that man," she said emphatically.

"President Thabo Mbeki has done a good job. They must let him continue. Look around you."

Kgatla was sitting in the shade between her rondavel and a solid, four-roomed brick house with several grandchildren.

The brick house in the village of Mawa, near Tzaneen in the far north of Limpopo, was built as part of the government's housing programme, and she is very proud of it.

In her view Mbeki had done a wonderful job and deserved to remain leader of the ANC and the country.

They've had good rains this year in GaModjadji, the seat of the legendary but unfortunate Rain Queen Modjadji, and it shows. The valley is lush, green and breathtakingly beautiful.

And on Saturday it was a sea of calm, far from the police sirens and the singing in Polo- kwane, the capital of Limpopo, where more than 7000 delegates and visitors had arrived for the ANC conference.

Kgatla is my grandmother. I had taken some time off from the conference, where Mbeki was set to lose the presidential battle to Jacob Zuma, to ask her what she thought of the contest.

She did not even know the conference was taking place, but became extremely agitated at the prospect of losing Mbeki.

"Mbeki gave us very good laws and brought some important initiatives. Do you know that Aids orphans get paid a grant? In this village nearly everyone gets a grant of some sort. There is no more hunger. It is Mbeki who did all that," she said.

Apart from the house, Kgatla receives a monthly pension of R870. The grandchildren who live with her receive child grants, alleviating the financial burden on her.

The road to her village is being tarred. The work has been going on for two years, but she says she has no doubt that in the next three years the road will be tarred up to her village.

"Tell me of any black person in South Africa who has ever seen a child's grant or a generous pension? Houses for free? Roads? Peace in our country? It is because of Mbeki," she said.

And Zuma? She says he seems more interested in getting married than in running the country.

My aunt Matseleng Kgatla, says it does not matter that Zuma has little formal education.

"Look, all these good things will continue: the water, the RDP houses and the other things. The fact that the man has only Standard Three does not count. The issue is whether he can lead or not. It is not the certificates you have, it is what is in your head that counts," she said.

On education, she says a perfect example is President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. She points out that there are so many desperate and destitute Zimbabweans in the GaModjadji area people refer to them as matlola trata, border jumpers.

"How many degrees does Mugabe have? Yet this place is full of Zimbabweans running away from him," she said.

To be sure, the transformation of Mawa is breathtaking. There is electricity in most parts of the village (my grandmother's section will be electrified in a second phase) and there is a sense of prosperity. Many people I spoke to believed Mbeki was responsible for these changes.

"He is not like Mandela, but he is his real son," said Maria Kgatla.