Militant residents

New groups have sprung up in impoverished towns of the Eastern Cape to fight municipal corruption and non-delivery.

Dordrecht is a typical impoverished town in the northern reaches of the Eastern Cape. Its 6000-7000 residents mainly live in shacks without light, though an electrification programme is underway. With the closure of many mines, the traditional source of jobs, there is little work available other than odd jobs on local farms. The railway line that runs through the town to Bloemfontein is disused. Incomes are so low that Masakhane is a lost cause here: many of the residents are in debt to loan sharks and have never paid the service charges they are supposed to for their little bits of land and outside toilets. Almost the only resource is control of the municipality and the access to public funds that it brings.

In the past year this dismal situation has given rise to a new phenomenon: community groups calling themselves Concerned Residents or Residential Fronts have sprung up and started to agitate for change. Beginning in Dordrecht in May 1997, the idea quickly spread to Sterkstroom, Maclear, Whittlesea and Indwe in the north, Cookhouse in the south and Lusikisiki far to the east. The aims of these various groups are similar — to force their ANC-led town councils to resign on the grounds of non-delivery and corruption. Their anger has divided communities and sometimes erupted into violence. Even schools have been disrupted as pupils turn on each other — though it should be said that many of the pupils are in their twenties. The acting principal at Dordrecht’s Masikhanyise high school, Sonwabo Tose, blames the matric pass rate of only 57 per cent on the political situation in the town.

The new groups have given the provincial government in Bisho and the ANC a jolt. Both have appointed troubleshooters: local government and housing MEC Sam Mazosiwe, who is investigating the residents’ complaints, and ANC regional publicity secretary Mcebisi Bata, who is investigating the groups themselves.

In September Mazosiwe instructed his department’s Queenstown regional office to investigate the Dordrecht council’s administration and he has also carried out audits in Maclear, Indwe and Whittlesea. In each case the TLC involved has squealed loudly, accusing the Concerned Residents of attempting to “overthrow” the ANC. Dordrecht ANC Alliance spokesman Zenzile Mahola blames a group of “concerned, corrupt, development-allergic residents” of spreading “disinformation” about the council, which he says is “performing well” and is one of the best in the area. The preliminary report into Dordrecht revealed:
n overpayments to councillors totalling R81 000
n councillors in arrears in their service payments
n town clerk Mxolisi Yawa, with a Standard 8 education level, was unqualified to fill the position
n Mayor Dudley Fitz does not own or live in fixed property in the town — the prime requirement for a municipal voter or candidate
Fitz promptly rejected these findings. The report had “serious flaws”, he said, adding that the council suspected a “plot” by regional department officials to “discredit the council by spreading wrong information”. The service charge arrears had been settled immediately after the investigation, he said. Councillors were not overpaid but had been remunerated in line with local government regulations, while the “harsh criticism” of Yawa was “disappointing and surprising”, as his appointment was based on the criteria of affirmative action and black empowerment. Indeed Yawa had undergone “several courses and workshops to empower him” over a six-month probation period. Fitz also insisted that he lived in the town and paid his service charges.

The report did not eliminate discontent. In early January, shortly after its findings were made known, a shouting match broke out between TLC supporters on the one side and Concerned Residents on the other. It degenerated into two days of violent clashes that left two men dead, both PAC members, and 11 people injured. It also left police with 136 cases to investigate including murder and attempted murder, arson, assault, damage to property, harassment and intimidation. Three months of relative calm followed that ended on Good Friday when two TLC supporters shot two Concerned Residents — one in the chest and the other five times in the legs. The next morning, a mob of 80 people in Sinakho township opened fire on council supporters. Three policemen who rushed to the scene also came under fire and were forced to beat a hasty retreat. Later they found a man, apparently an uninvolved bystander, lying in the street with a shoulder wound. Police spent the whole of Easter Sunday discussing the violence with local ANC and PAC officials and by Monday calm was restored.

Mahola claims that the violence is instigated by the PAC in conjunction with the New National Party and the AWB, which he said had formed an alliance in the town in 1995 to fight the ANC. It was these “counter-revolutionary forces with some new recruits” who were behind the conflict, said Mahola. The ANC was committed to a peaceful resolution of the conflict, but “we are equally prepared to take any form of physical challenge from any third force element and its surrogates or enemies of our government’s delivery.”

However, Mxolisi Oyiya, spokesman for Dordrecht’s Concerned Residents, insists they are simply a group of residents unhappy with the council’s dismal performance and delivery record. “Some of our members are staunch ANC card-carrying members, others are from the NP, DP, PAC and UDM. We have set aside political differences and are united to bring about development in Dordrecht.” The PAC also gets the blame in neighbouring Indwe, but Residential Front chairman Frederick Jasson says locals simply want the council disbanded after a host of irregularities were claimed in April last year.

PAC deputy provincial secretary Peter Mwati dismisses talk of his party instigating violence through Mahola’s alleged “counter-revolutionary” alliance with the NP and AWB. It was merely a legitimate community protest against non-delivery and inexperienced town councillors and a town clerk employed in jobs they were not capable of performing, he said.

Recalling the ANC’s pre-1994 involvement in boycotts and violence in Eastern Cape towns that followed on non-delivery of services, he says “Now the same people who are in power, who were supporting the violence and the boycotts against the Nationalist government, have the people against them because they are failing to deliver.” UDM leader Bantu Holomisa agrees, saying the conflicts in northern Eastern Cape towns were indicative of a “cancer in the ANC” as members increasingly felt their elected or appointed representatives were not transparent. “When these people complain, the ANC leaders start labelling them. The disease is within the organisation.”

Nonetheless Mazosiwe is having to get tough on the irregularities that he finds. “Transparency is the key,” he says. “We have taken strong measures to ensure that where money is owed, it is paid back to the TLC. This way we eliminate grounds for discontent and, as has happened in Whittlesea, gain community acceptance and normality.” Mazosiwe, while conceding that residents with “post-apartheid expectations” of the ANC have legitimate grievances, says “we are also investigating destabilisation and have involved the safety and security department.” Mcebisi Bata, who together with ANC provincial general secretary Humphrey Maxhegwana is handling a party probe of Concerned Residents groups, is adamant that their main aim is to destabilise councils and then destabilise the ANC. He lays the blame on power struggles emanating from within and outside the ANC, he says. “Some of these people are well known, including former ANC chairpersons and others ousted in elections who still want to be mayors and deputy mayors.” But Oyiya says that his group was not bent on seizing the local seat of power but only wants the government to appoint caretaker administrators in the town, following the example in Butterworth.

Mahola says the local ANC alliance also believes poor administration of justice by “some policemen and prosecutors” is fuelling the conflict. He claims that police were forewarned of violence being planned in Dordrecht, but failed to take proactive action. The ANC alliance was also unhappy about the continued postponement of violence-related court cases. Claims of criminal negligence, bias, uneven application of the law, and encouragement of violence by police have been referred to the Independent Complaints Directorate for investigation. Police spokesman Captain Mpofana Skwatsha says police will only comment once the ICD probe is completed.

As the municipal struggles continue, Judge Willem Heath’s Special Investigating Unit on corruption has received lists of allegations from both Dordrecht and Indwe, and is awaiting official proclamations so that it can probe these councils’ affairs. The unit is already investigating 24,182 alleged fraud and corruption cases in 19 Eastern Cape municipalities and five provincial government departments involving more than R600 million.