Rustenburg is under construction. Freshly mixed cement is being laid for what will soon be a bus stop. Men in green overalls, faces hidden by dust masks, direct cars away from the chaos. The construction has been under way for a while already, but now there is a renewed sense of urgency. It’s an election year. About 10 minutes from the town’s centre, 2km from Anglo American Platinum’s Thembelani mine shaft, sits – literally on a heap of rubble – Boitekong’s Ward 21.
The excitement from down the road does not reach this corner of Rustenburg, where the wind carries with it odours of manure, rotting food and chemicals. It’s 34°C today.
Boitekong’s story is no different from other mining towns around the country – a discarded community barely making a living. Half-naked children and goats trample over shards of glass, bits of plastic and other piles of rubbish.
On a street corner outside the local clinic on Wednesday, a group of young people wearing lime-green shirts gather. They call themselves the Botho Community Movement, or BCM, which was registered as a political party in September. The BCM says the ANC and other opposition parties have failed them. Some of their members previously stood as independent candidates, but that didn’t work for them, so they formed the party specifically to contest their neighbourhood in Ward 21.
“No one can change this community but us. There is no [President Jacob] Zuma or [ Julius] Malema. We have to stand up for ourselves,” says group member Lindile Mlotshwa.
The 31-year-old stays with his unemployed sister. His mother is a pensioner. He is studying to be an IT technician at a local college.
He laments the fact that the area’s young people have no mentors, no parks and no facilities to occupy them. Instead, many loiter outside one of the many taverns in the area.
Mlotshwa’s compatriot, Ofentse Kombe, bemoans the fact that the local clinic, which serves thousands of people, is only open until 6pm and is closed on weekends.
“Old people are forced to queue here from about 3am to get help,” says the 27-year-old community development student.
The BCM members hop on to the back of a van, which pulls a trailer piled high with speakers. One young man holds a microphone and the “show” slowly makes its way around the area. They recruit new members and remind others that the time to register to vote is just around the corner.
In 2014, at least 7 500 people in the area registered to vote, but only 65% of them made their mark at the polls.
“Be the change you want to see,” the speaker says from the back of the van, which trundles through deep ditches or makeshift drains in the road, and leaves a small cloud of dry dust in its wake. The van stops every few metres and the group’s members speak to residents.
The average person around here is 24 years old. Only 39% of the people are employed, and only 33% get around to finishing their matric. Children younger than 18 make up 35% of the population. There are screaming toddlers everywhere.
One young girl in a pink summer dress toddles down the middle of the road with a green margarine lid in hand. She turns it as if she is driving a car.
“Baby-making is a competition around here. If you don’t have at least one, you will get chased away. People respect you if they know you can have a child as a young woman,” says one resident, who is only half-joking.
Sitting outside a meticulously well-kept corrugated iron shack is Mapheto Mokgobye (81), dignified on an old stained mattress, her cracked heels tucked underneath her. She has lived here since 1995 and has been waiting for a house ever since. She votes for the ANC and is disappointed in the party, but has reservations about changing her vote.
“Will there not be a fight when I vote for someone else? I think people will come into my house and kill me at night. It is not worth it,” she says.
Inside, her 18-year-old granddaughter Kelibogile cradles her baby, who is just a few months old. She left school after completing Grade 5. Her 22-year-old sister Mathepelo dropped out after Grade 11. She tends to her newborn. Their unemployed mother, Evelyn, nods while two young men from the BCM urge the girls to return to school and break the cycle of poverty in their family.
A plan for a new school is under way, but it will be built only a few hundred metres from another school on what is a tiredlooking sporting ground.
“There is a misconception around here that we as the BCM don’t want the school to be built, but that is not the case. We are merely saying that it does not make sense to take away the one real sporting ground there is, or to build a school so close to another one. Children must walk more than 3km to get here from the other side of the community,” says Kombe.
Two taverns and a bottle store are just a short walk away. Facing one is a young girl of about 12, who asks a young man walking past to buy her a “guarana” – an alcoholic drink.
Also on Wednesday, ANC ward councillor David Coetzee addressed a group of residents at a crèche that is next door to a tavern he owns. The rumbustious man tells them that tomorrow they can sign up for RDP houses and stands, where they can build their own homes. The group chatter excitedly, many have been waiting for years.
“On Saturday, I ask that you vote for me. Even if I don’t win, I will still have a promotion waiting for me at the mayor’s office,” he promised.
On Saturday, the ANC will vote for its ward councillor candidate in a hotly contested race between Coetzee and Pogiso Bothomane, residents say.
The ANC won 74% of the vote in Ward 21 in 2014; the Economic Freedom Fighters trailed in with 20%. The battle is not for a party, but within the ANC itself, and the two candidates have been trash-talking each other.
Coetzee gets agitated and then aggressive when tapped on the shoulder and asked for a moment of his time.
“What do you want? I despise the media. You arrive here and want to write about what you see and hear. What about the projects we have been working on since 2011? If you want to speak to me, make an appointment at the mayor’s office,” he says.
A few minutes later, Coetzee is more charming and explains that times are tense and his bodyguards are on edge – being tapped on the shoulder in the middle of a crowd is not ideal.
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TIME FOR CHANGE
Children run around in Boitekong, 6km from Rustenburg. Boitekong’s story is no different from other mining towns around the country