INTERVIEW WITH THULANI BUKANI, Secretary Independent Komani Residents’ Association (Ikora)
Note: sometimes Komani is referred to by its former name of Queenstown.
Amandla!: What are the conditions of public services in Komani?
Thulani Bukani: The conditions are very bad. Every day, you get to see that the conditions are actually deteriorating. The infrastructure we have is from 1976 when Ezibeleni township was established. We used to have water every day in Queenstown, but nowadays you don’t have that. Sometimes you don’t get water for about a week. Sometimes you get water at five o’clock in the morning, and then by seven o’clock there is no water again. You have people who are sick, you have elderly people who are taking treat ents. The situation is just bad.
And it’s not getting any better. Because they are changing mayor like there’s no tomorrow. There’s not a single mayor that finished even a year. They chop and change mayors, but we don’t see change on the ground. The situation is getting worse.
This whole thing started when they amalgamated the municipality in 2016. They went to the amalgamation without consulting the stakeholders, without consulting the community. They just amalgamated the three municipalities: Tsolwana, Inkwanca and Lukhanji. And then the municipality had to continue to pay people who were senior managers in those small municipalities, because they couldn’t just terminate their contracts.
In 2018, Enoch Mgijima municipality was owing Eskom R457 million for electricity. Then in 2018 we, the community, made a mass action to demand that the Cogta at the provincial level must install an administrator to come and make some investigation. The administrator only managed to release a preliminary report. It identified problems of ghost workers and of people who are employed in positions where they don’t qualify. It found irregular spending, including R1.7 million that was owed by the municipality to Fort Hare University, where councillors were enrolled. He recommended that anyone who is responsible for that spending must pay it back.
And then there was another spending of about R90,000 on KFC.
A!: Why is it that the municipality has not paid Eskom?
TB: One of the things which was even confirmed by the administrator was that the municipality is incompetent, even at collecting the revenue. You will find some houses that belong to the municipality, which the municipality is supposed to get revenues from. They are being used for harboring ANC members who are staying there for free. Some of them are even employed by the municipality.
And there is also corruption. For example, when there’s money from national or provincial government, that money doesn’t go to the things that it is allocated for. They will be doing some other things of interest to them, not service delivery.
A!: How is the municipality functioning? When the community complains, how does it respond?
TB: There’s no response at all.
As Ikora, I don’t know how many petitions we have submitted to the municipality. And some of those petitions were not just criticising them or demanding service delivery. We were even providing solutions to some of the problems that the municipality finds itself in. The mayor committed that she will call us to discuss those solutions, including how they may implement them. But they never called us up to today.
A!: So what are the roles of the political parties in all of this?
TB: You don’t see the opposition parties doing anything at all. They are just enjoying their salaries in the council. The ANC, which is in power on its own, looks to Ikora as its opposition here, even though we are not in the council. We are the ones who are pushing for accountability. So you will find the ANC excludes us from each and every platform.
For example, there is a road here. Now it’s just a gravel road, because they removed the tar road with the intention to put in a new one. And then they were interdicted because they flouted even the processes of awarding the tender for that project. So the road has remained a gravel road for a year. And then it was us, the communities, who went to the municipality to demand answers.
A!: There have been a number of mayors in a short time. Why do they keep changing the mayor if the ANC is in power on its own?
TB: It’s their factions that are changing the office, because they fight amongst themselves. The first mayor, they changed her because she stole a cow from the animal pound. When an old woman who was a single parent went to reclaim her livestock, it was found that the mayor stole the cow and went to make some ritual in her home.
So then she was replaced. And there have been four more mayors since then. Now we have Madoda Papiyana. He was arrested for contravening the National Disaster Act during the lockdown, when alcohol was banned. He was found driving drunk and carrying a lot of alcohol in his car. He is the current mayor.
A!: Was there a time when the municipality had its own employees, its own roads department. Did that happen in Komani? And would it not be a better system?
TB: I’m sure it last happened when it was the apartheid government. Not during this government. It would be better in many ways. The spending when you are appointing a tender company will be far worse than when you are having a department of the municipality that is dealing with the maintenance of the roads and all the infrastructure in the municipality. But now what they are doing, when they appoint a company, they also stand to benefit immensely. If that company is going to charge R2 million for a tender, they will say to that person, make it R4 million. And then the R2 million will come to us and then you take your R2 million.
That is one of the things we were raising to them to say they must have employees, they must have public works, because back then the roads were done by public works. Today, you don’t find that.
A!: How have you as the residents in general been responding to these crisis situations and how has that been going with the municipality?
TB: It’s difficult for the communities. They are resorting to mass actions. As Ikora we’ve been very closely leading those mass actions of the people to the municipality. But it’s also tiring when you fight for these things and then, come the elections, the ANC wins again.
In the last local elections, we had independent candidates. We only fielded three people because of a lack of resources. We had to register as independents because we didn’t have resources to register as an organisation. Those three candidates did very well. In some of the voting stations, we managed to beat the ANC. But as independents we weren’t entitled to our share of proportional votes. When we counted the percentage, it was enough for about six seats if we had been entitled to those proportional votes.
A!: So what is your idea as Ikora of a way forward? How do you think this crisis can be resolved?
TB: One of the key things in the civic organisation is to work together so that we support each other. Before the local elections, we were mixed with a forum of business people, dominated by white people. We had an agreement to match our resources to contest elections. But we as Ikora don’t only look at issues of service delivery. We also support the workers. Workers came to our community meeting to complain about exploitation by a company which is a member of the business forum.
We wrote a letter to the firm to arrange an appointment and went to meet them. They didn’t want to listen to us because we are not a union. The business forum said they cannot support us if we are also fighting for workers. We explained that if we are to have a relationship with anyone, it should be on a mutual respect basis. It cannot be on a master and slave basis.
There was the recent two-dayshut down in Queenstown. Then, as Ikora, what we are proposing is to go and involve other areas. Because under Enoch Mgijima we have about six towns. We communicated with those comrades to say how about we have one civic organisation. So that our respective organisations will be affiliating. We don’t dissolve them. They exist under this one umbrella. When we are contesting we are going to use that civic organisation.
One of the things which makes ANC always come out as a winner is that we are working in silos, even though we are fighting the same enemy. We have an agreement to meet with all these towns to prepare for the next local elections.