It's personal, it's business
Giyani is a small town that can be found on the far north-east of the Limpopo Province of South Africa. It is home to a majority Tsonga population with a rich history as the capital of the former Gazankulu homeland under Apartheid. It is situated en route to the Kruger National Park through the Punda Maria gate. As picturesque as this small town might seem as one drives by, it is not exempt from its own problems.
After the collapse of the Apartheid system the town had fine schools, including tertiary institutions as well as fully functional infrastructure. Over the years, Giyani has been marred by a lack in service delivery and dilapidating infrastructure. This started with the decline in the supply of water and later, no supply at all. Roads in the town and the residential areas have become unsafe due to potholes.
The most important rule on South African roads, keep left, pass right. As you turn into the intersection at ka-Diza, entering the Section A main road, with Mountain View to your left and Nyagelani to your right, the road has many potholes. Incidentally, drivers find themselves driving on the same lane to avoid them. And to pass each other, one has to drive on the curb. The most important decision to be made in the car is: who will do it first?
At the corner of the street, behind ka-Diza sits a group of young men aged 28 to 33, at a car wash open for business. One of many in Giyani, but the town has not had proper running water since early 2000. The men devise a plan: fill up the potholes with regular soil and charge motorists up to R 5 ($ 0.62) for the service. They don’t do this all day, they’ve got to be smart or they will get caught.
They do this either during peak hours (7-9 am and 3-5p.m) or after (9 am-12pm) in the week. They don’t do this during weekends because officials don’t look official on weekends. Ironically, many “official” people, some working for the municipality, see them during those peak times.
Why is an issue now?
In 17 December 2011 it was announce that the Limpopo Province was R3 billion ($ 375 million) in debt. This was due to the province’s maladministration of funds which saw five departments being placed under government administration. This has resulted in mudslinging with the ruling African National Congress (ANC) accusing its Limpopo branch of sabotaging it through this act. This is in the run up to its national conference where it is to choose new party leadership.
Over the years, party politics has resulted in small towns, like Giyani, falling through the cracks as many leaders are too caught up in them, constantly questioning who is out to get whom? With most government officials lacking accountability and not assisting with sustainable solutions, the communities have since adopted proactive practical means to problems which can be seen with these young men.
In early December 2011, while at the car wash, they noticed that the local Greater Giyani municipality was not covering the potholes which were becoming more dangerous by the day. With new parts of the tar stripping away “we just thought of filling them up ourselves,” says Johannes, 33, the leader of the crew of approximately six. “People don’t necessarily have to pay if they don’t want to and some don’t,” he adds. Asked whether they have ever gotten in trouble with the municipality, he says “the municipality does not hassle us, I guess they pretend not to know.”
Steven Mavunda, Municipality Senior Communications Officer, says that they had no idea this was happening, but are aware of the escalating pothole situation. There are no exact statistics of unemployed youth in Giyani, but “we as the municipality have enlisted the services of over 40 personnel, mostly youth, from all around Giyani to beef up our team.” This is a municipality servicing the town and several surrounding villages, in a country with over 72% of unemployed youth.
The problem here is not the potholes, but the lack of means within a community to accomplish something basic, thus taking advantage of a dire situation to make something of yourself. The municipality attributes the lack of water, for the car washes for example, to climate change and not enough rainfall. They do, however, have plans in place to combat this. “There is a project called the Mapuve Water Works which was originally used to supply water to Thohoyandou (Venda). Now this project has been earmarked to redirect water back to Giyani,” says Mavunda. If all goes according to plan, they hoped to achieve this in about six months.
Until then, these young men see themselves as heroes of the people. Not everyone agrees of course. “I think there would have been a greater impact if the entire community were involved,” says a local man who wishes to stay anonymous, “then the municipality would see how serious we were for service. These young men simply end up buying alcohol from ka-Diza and drugs and then it all goes to waste.”
We can only hope that this is not the case and that the municipality lives up to its promises. And lastly, “have youth empowerment projects or promote youth initiatives until change happens,” he says.