FRONTIERS and boundaries are not simple issues in South Africa. With our history of bantustans and Group Areas Act demarcations, it is inevitable that decisions about who lives under which jurisdiction will be more than ordinarily fraught.

But the authorities seem to have learned little from the long battles over demarcations in the last few years, notably in places like Khutsong.

At least four people, according to Free State police, have died in the last few days in violence associated with the decision to merge the Metsimaholo municipality in Sasolburg with the Ngwathe municipality. More than 200 people have been arrested since the protests started in Zamdela in Sasolburg last Sunday.

Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Richard Baloyi, whose failure to arrive at a planned meeting between the authorities and the community appears to have ignited the anger of residents, has now suspended the plan to merge the two municipalities, and has promised that all those affected will be allowed to have their say.

As they must. The Municipal Demarcation Board, which decides on changes to municipal boundaries, says that circulars have been issued, meetings held and notices published in newspapers and sent to mayors, speakers and municipal managers. Public comment closed in December and by then 28 submissions had been received. Clearly processes have been followed. But community leaders say the people were not consulted.

Has it really taken four deaths, more than 200 arrests and a great deal of damage to reach the conclusion that the people most affected by a change of this nature must be canvassed?

For residents who fear that the merger of the municipalities will reduce the amount of money spent by the authorities in their area, the issue is of great importance.

The Municipal Demarcation Board apparently has some 200 proposals on the table including several which involve mergers. Baloyi’s challenge is to make sure that in all these cases the voice of the residents is heard, loud and clear.