06/02/2014 Angry Zithobeni residents take to the streets over service delivery protest near Bronkhorstspruit. They are demansing to meet with the mayor of Tshwane Kgosientso Ramokgopa. Picture: Phill Magakoe

Johannesburg - There are three buildings adjacent to each other in Zithobeni township near Bronkhorstpruit, which appear to have been strategically built next to each other to create some sort of hub.

They were built with the same type of dark-brown mortar bricks, have almost identical window frames and sizes, and the maroon steel fences erected around them are identical in colour and form.

The latest common thread they have are the burnt walls, broken windows, the rammed fences and a lone security guard at each one to ensure the “nyaope boys” don’t steal whatever steel is left in the abandoned structures. These buildings are the police station, community library and municipal offices that were burnt down when violent protests broke out in the township in February.

Clashes between residents and the SAPS resulted in the SAPS firing rubber bullets at the crowd and at least 31 people being arrested for public disorder and malicious damage to property.

But the biggest effect of the protests was the burning down of the buildings, which before then were serving the Zithobeni community; the library was mostly used by learners from two primary schools in the area and the municipal building was, among others, a point-of-sale for prepaid electricity.

That the community burnt down a police station and police officers had to flee for their lives while their colleagues from the Bronkhorstpruit police station rushed to the scene perhaps describes how angry the community was. The effects of the arson are tragic and the community continues to suffer. The elderly now have to spend a taxi return fare of R16 to travel to town to buy electricity or to make affidavits at the Bronkhorstspruit police station.

Learners who were regular users of the library, where burnt books still lie strewn across the floor, accompanied by a strong stench inside the building, have to make another plan.

Many of the elders remain upset about the burning of the premises despite agreeing with the grievances raised by the protesters who burnt them down.

At the time of the unrest the popular rhetoric was, “We are not going to vote”, but that seems to have changed to, “We are voting for change”.

This has attracted myriad political parties to the area; the street poles are laden with posters of president Jacob Zuma, DA premier candidate Mmusi Maimane, African Christian Democratic Party leader Reverend Kenneth Meshoe and Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema.

In the 2011 local government elections, Zithobeni formed part of the electorate that gave the ANC a resounding victory in ward 102, where the party garnered 77 percent of the vote, followed by the DA with 19 percent. The rest of the three percent of votes was shared between smaller parties, including the ACDP.

The ward had a voter turnout of 55 percent during the elections, and parties will be looking to capture disgruntled residents who snubbed the elections then.

Zithobeni is one of the areas that fell under the erstwhile Metsweding and Nokeng tsa Taemane municipalities, which were incorporated into Tshwane after the 2011 local government elections.

While this was expected to speed up service delivery and give residents more access to resources, some residents are unconvinced.

Moses Monageng, 36, is among those who are sticking by the initial vow not to vote in the upcoming elections, saying the previous votes have not yielded any change or development in the area.

“I have voted since the days of (Nelson) Mandela, (Thabo) Mbeki and now Zuma, yet you can see that we have been abandoned here. We do not even have stands to call our own and electricity remains expensive.

“It is a conscious decision that I have taken not to cast my vote. There does not seem to be any change coming here, so what is the point,” he asked.

The bumpy street on which Monageng resides has water running through it, and the area is surrounded by an informal dump site. But Lillian Selema, who has

lived in Zithobeni for the past 14 years, is more concerned about the lack of proper toilets in the area, saying she is tired of using pit toilets.

This has not, however, deterred her from registering to vote and participating in next week’s election. “I cannot just sit here and not vote. It is the only way we have to make our voices heard, not through the burning of buildings. We are facing hardships here because we now have to travel to town to get electricity,” she said.

Selema and her neighbours use a communal tap that is used by about eight other households in the same area.

“We have to vote to ensure that, even though we still struggle, we are not taken back to the old days,” she said.

Medupi Mokoena, 71, slammed the youth in the community for burning the municipal building as it meant residents now had “to go to town for everything”.

While the community remains disgruntled despite the visit and promises to improve services by Tshwane mayor and ANC regional chairman Kgosientso Ramokgopa, police believe that they have the situation under control for the May 7 elections.

While the tensions appear to have settled down, it is clear that recent developments in Zithobeni will significantly influence how residents cast their ballots on Wednesday.

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Sunday Independent