'Andries Tatane didn't die in vain'

Facelift: Theroads in the town of Ficksburg and the nearby township of Meqheleng are poor, and opposition parties blame lack of maintenance for their shocking state. Photos: Lucas Ledwaba
Facelift: Theroads in the town of Ficksburg and the nearby township of Meqheleng are poor, and opposition parties blame lack of maintenance for their shocking state. Photos: Lucas Ledwaba

Pensioner Lenkoe Mokhutle was among thousands of Meqheleng residents present at the march where community activist Andries Tatane died after he was assaulted and shot by riot police.

It was April 13 2011 and the world watched the horrific footage of police beating up and shooting Tatane during a march on the offices of the Setsoto municipality in Ficksburg, Free State.

Residents of Meqheleng township were marching against the municipality's dismal failure to provide basic service delivery.

"I was at that march [where Tatane was killed]. We never forget about that. He was not fighting. He was demanding that people have water and that the municipality stop the sewage from flowing down our streets," 75-year-old Mokhutle said.

Then the streets of the township were a mess, littered with flowing raw sewage resulting from poor workmanship by companies paid more than R190-million to construct a sewage system replacing the inhumane bucket-toilet system.

The water supply to the township was intermittent while just across the road in town there was a constant supply of the precious resource. Fed up with the "don't care" attitude of municipal officials, residents formed the Meqheleng Concerned Citizens (MCC), a nonpartisan community action group which took up the fight for better service delivery.

Then, Mokhutle and his family lived in a shack which had no water and electricity. The family, like hundreds of others in Meqheleng, used the bucket-toilet system.

The buckets would be left rotting with human waste for days on end. The waste-bucket collection service by the municipality was almost nonexistent. "It was very bad. The smell was terrible and we were constantly sick," Mokhutle told Sowetan this week.

As a result of the municipality's failure to collect sewage buckets, some residents improvised by digging holes in their backyards and burying the waste. But this caused an even worse stink, particularly after heavy rains. But change has come to Meqheleng. Last year, Mokhutle and his family moved into a new RDP house built on the same property where they had lived for more than 30 years.

The old bucket toilet has made way for a flushing toilet.

"This house was built by the ANC. It has too many faults. But it is better to be living in a house than in a shack," said Mokhutle, who swears he will be voting for the ANC in the upcoming election.

Mokhutle believes that most of the issues Tatane fought for have been addressed since his death five years ago. The street in front of his house is one of many that have been newly paved as part of the Extended Public Works Programmes rolled out throughout Meqheleng.

Although many of the previous challenges have been addressed, there are still many issues, particularly youth unemployment.

David Selokoe matriculated in 2012 and studied drama at Wits University. But he has been unable to land a job. So, together with Frank Lenyatsa, they have started Madiba Boys Hair Salon and Car Wash. But business is slow, and the serious water shortages have hit their business hard.

The pair believe the municipality should improve its economic development structures to support small business.

Sam Motseare, who was in the leadership of MCC in 2011, said there has been massive improvement in the township. He said some of the issues raised by the MCC have since been resolved - the paving of roads, the building of a new sport stadium and the almost total eradication of bucket toilets. MCC has since been disbanded.

"The municipality is now easily accessible and it's no longer like before. We have achieved many of the issues we fought for back then even though we still have water shortages," Motseare said.


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