Study shows Vuwani residents not keen on proposed merger of municipalities

FILE PICTURE: April 03, 2017 - Vuwani is under siege again over the long-running municipal demarcation issue.
FILE PICTURE: April 03, 2017 - Vuwani is under siege again over the long-running municipal demarcation issue.
Image: Antonio Muchave

Residents in poor communities do not agree with municipalities being merged with the intention of improving their financial viability.

This is one of the findings of a study conduced by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and the Municipal Demarcation Board (MDB) which was released on Tuesday.

The exploratory study focused on Vuwani‚ in Limpopo‚ and looked at the drivers of violence and conflict that erupted over municipal boundaries in the region.

It also aimed to understand the socio-economic and psychosocial impact of the violence on the communities‚ their learning activities and everyday life.

Violence erupted in Vuwani following the MDB’s 2016 re-determination process which led to the recommendation that the Malamulele and Vuwani municipalities be merged and called the Malamulele-Vuwani municipality.

Schools were torched and teaching and learning brought to a standstill as residents protested against the MDB decision to merge the two municipalities. Various spheres of government were called to intervene in what was turning out to be serious crisis in these areas.

The study looking into the reasons for this found the following: - residents did not accept the idea of merging poor communities in the name of financial viability; - communities argue that they were not consulted; - there are perceptions that government wanted to please the people of Malamulele; - the ethnicity or tribalism question emerged repeatedly in the interviews; and - there are many reasons for the burning of schools and public infrastructure‚ key among which the dominant perspective that public infrastructure such as schools are prominent symbols of local governance and therefore fair game to target and destroy in order to ensure that community demands are heard.

Prof Barwa Kanyane‚ lead investigator on the study said: “The study yielded some important lessons for South Africa’s public engagement and consultation model‚ foremost amongst which‚ is that this cannot merely be a compliance exercise. The process must be authentic and demonstrate a willingness to hear what communities are saying about what is important to them. This ethos and sentiment should be at the heart of our commitment to public service.”

The study was conducted in two phases. The first phase involved a visit to Vuwani six months after the arson attacks on schools and public destruction of other infrastructure in December 2016.

Interviews were conducted with two traditional leaders who reflected on the tensions around the re-determination of the boundary and the incorporation of their areas into the new municipality. Nine unstructured interviews were conducted with community members to obtain their views on what had caused the violence.

The second phase was largely informed by the preliminary findings of the first visits‚ and was conducted in January-February 2017. This Phase comprised visits to four schools to conduct in-depth interviews with learners and principals who witnessed the violence.

In addition‚ six focus groups comprising an average of six learners were also conducted. Apart from the interviews in Vuwani‚ an interview was conducted with a senior official from the MDB to provide the board’s perspective on the matter.

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