The pervasive smell coming from the dysfunctional sanitary systems was over-powering than that of the fragrances we applied on our bodies; the smell was much closer to our nostrils as if it was generated by our own bodies. Even a dead body whose putrefaction was advanced wouldn’t over-power the smell; if a smell was something to be listened to I would say it still echoes in my ears at the moment and if it was something to be seen I would sometimes see its illusions. To the residents of Hlanganani Township situated in Limpopo under the jurisdiction of Collins Chabane Municipality, the sewage smell is something they must put up with on a daily basis.
I wasn’t enduring the breath of the badly contaminated oxygen alone, but I had in my company a group of people who are accustomed to the aggressive environment of the settlement. These are the township activists under the effectively wielded power of Thulani Rikhotso; these are the people who work tirelessly to make the voices of the marginalized and economically disempowered masses of the township heard. They are committed in championing the trampled constitutional rights of the inhabitants of the community and always meditate about the measures to be used in order for the government to succumb to their demands. Together with fellow dwellers, they have exhausted every platform to make the government satisfy their basic needs but their requests seem to have fallen on waxed ears. Violent service delivery protest is the only podium to be climbed in order to grab the attention of politicians at the top echelons of the government.
The thought of visiting the lavatory sent a creepy sensation crawling up and down my spine because this is where the engineering of the smell was transpiring. The blocked sewage systems have compelled the residents to resort to building their own pit toilets which wasn’t featured in the planning of the township. One doesn’t need to conduct a thorough research in order to establish that the unfavourable conditions in the township have thrown the health of its inhabitants into a bottomless pit of jeopardy and have also reduced them to the lowest rank.
Downrightly the residents of Hlanganani Township are being deprived of their constitutional right, which is the right to life, because without water there can’t be life. If the right to death was also enshrined in our overrated constitution I would say the government has done enough to effectively fulfil it. This kind of a situation can send your mind racing, trying to find out why something like this happens under the aegis of the new democratic dispensation where the responsible authorities should endeavour by all possible ways to gratify the basic needs of the people. Poor sanitary conditions, unemployment opportunities and shortage of water are amongst the grievances that propelled the residents of the township to embark on a service delivery protest that raged for about two weeks in succession.
This service delivery protest was triggered by a ward councillor of the place who convoked a meeting with the residents and enlightens them of the municipality’s plan of offering them plants for plantations in their yards. The residents reacted to this by bombarding the councillor with questions he couldn’t properly answer even though he was given two years of preparations, questions such as what would they do with plants if they don’t have water. The residents’ point of departure was simple, the municipality should put things in order of importance, it should provide water and afterwards plantations would follow. The departure of the councillor was followed by a service delivery protest that later culminated into an uncontrollable one to the intervention of law enforcement agencies.
The R578 road that carries the heavy traffic from Louis Trichardt to Giyani was barricaded with rocks, burning tires and garbage that was supposed to have been collected some days before the protests; that which the authorities failed to collect was used as a weapon against authorities. The economy of the township and the surrounding areas became stagnant since cars were barred from using the road to the point where an alternative road was found for the proper flow of traffic. Typically Law enforcement agencies were used to suppress the Kwandabeni service delivery protests after the government promised them better living conditions in the new settlement.
Sluggard service delivery is one amongst many of the catastrophes that plagued the Hlanganani Township since its establishment in retrospect. Crime is one of the factors that is rife in the township and it is alleged that the perpetrators are undocumented people from the diaspora who have been bestowed the houses or appropriated evacuated houses for themselves without adhering to legitimate procedures, though it is argued that these alleged perpetrators are working hand-in-glove with South African nationals as their accomplices. Evacuated houses are also alleged to be employed by thieves to smuggle stolen goods into them.
This was not the first violent protest to be conducted and it mightn’t as well be the last. In 2018 the residents embarked on a perpetuated protest demanding a primary school to be built for the pupils within the township as they alleged to have met the requirements of having a school. This followed an accident where a pupil lost his life after he was knocked down by a car while crossing the road to a school located some few kilometres away from the township where the kid was domiciled. The government failed to succumb to the demands of the residents, but buses were allocated to transport pupils to school so as to deter them from being knocked down by cars while attempting to cross the road. This was considered a temporal solution by the residents since they demanded a school to be built not buses but it did help to appease the anger they were harbouring within them.
Commonalities are shared by the Hlanganani Township and the Kwandabeni settlement; in 1901 black people became subjected draconian and demeaning conditions after they were suspected to be spreading the Bubonic plague which was considered to be a contagious disease. On the basis of this they had to be separated from white people as it was alleged that white people might as well contract the airborne infection from black people and to accomplish this, the Cape government had to establish a separate residential area for black people in a remote from the city (the first racial segregation eviction at the Cape).
Black people were mercilessly dumped into an area called Uitvlugt, the name that was altered to Kwandabeni by its residents. The living conditions in Kwandabeni were chaotic, sanitary conditions were poor and the houses were not hospitable, it is better to simply say that the Kwandabeni place was not conducive for human survival. Hlanganani Township is normatively also viewed as the reservoir of various infectious diseases albeit this had never been statistically proven, probably they have been dumped there to contain these diseases.
The Kwandabeni hardships are very typical of the ones bombarded with people from Hlanganani Township, the only disparity existing is that the perpetrators of the Kwandabeni’s unfavourable living conditions were colonial mongers and the perpetrators of the bad living conditions in Hlanganani Township are black people who arrogate to have redeemed fellow black people from the Babylonian walls of apartheid.
Mkhabele Current (Social Commentator and Columnist)