Prince charming woos the voters
But residents still complain of lack of delivery
A QUEUE of supplicants waited with us for Beaufort West mayor Truman Prince.
It was almost midday and the queue had been growing steadily since 9am.
“He’s on his way,” we were told about an hour before, but we stood idly taking in the sights and sounds of the Karoo town sliced in half by the N1 highway. A truck rumbled past, bearing a fresh haul of wreckage from the notorious death stretch between here and Laingsburg.
A group of raucous young women arrived, complaining they had not been paid their stipends for the course they were doing through the services sector education training authority.
They were there to demand Prince’s intervention and some muttered darkly they would not be voting for his party – the ANC – if he didn’t deliver.
But when he did pull up, sporting trademark fashionably ripped jeans, stylish jacket and a rapper-style peak cap, they bustled round him like groupies.
“This is our Truman, our mayor,” one shouted after him as he was propelled by the group into his office for an impromptu audience.
Grumbles erupted among those who had been waiting before them.
You need passion for this job, the man himself informed us when we were ushered into his office. People arrived at his house when he got home from work and they were there first thing in the morning, always expecting.
But there was no greater reward in politics than the smile of someone you have helped with a problem, he enthused. “That’s the biggest prize – just a mere thank you.”
On the street, people were not universally grateful.
Lazing on a plastic crate on a street corner in Prince Valley, Elton Roberts, 21, said as far as he could see, the council was not doing its work.
“Some people complain about their drains and sewage that floods. It takes a long time to fix when it happens,” he said.
For him and his friends, though, joblessness is the biggest concern.
“You probably have to know someone to get work. I’ve applied often, my friends have also all applied, but we don’t get it.”
He would vote for the EFF in the coming local government elections because, he said, they had worked on people’s homes in the area.
Nathan Pëpes, 24, cruised past, his face etched with the evidence of life outside the charmed circle of employment.
“Look at these roads, they could give us work to fix these roads. They must look after the teenagers and the young people who have no jobs, they must help us get out of the gangster life.”
Not everyone was unhappy, though. Elna Lottering stood proudly in her ANC T-shirt in the doorway of her new home in Ward 4.
“As far as you go the people are ANC,” she said.
“We had a rally yesterday and people came out in hordes in their T-shirts. So I think we’re going to win this ward again.”
In Mandlenkosi, pensioner Sarah Hlekiso, 79, and her daughters Constance Jantjies, 47, and Violet Mdindwa, 38, were initially nervous about speaking to the media.
“We old people, we tell them (our problems) but they don’t come to us. We have lots of problems. We can’t speak, we are scared,” Hlekiso said.
The houses here are small, facebrick structures, some with broken windows, and potholes gape through the faded tar surface.
Jantijies said her toilet was blocked and the shower flooded.
“I’ve been waiting three weeks, but I sit with that stink,” she said.
Her electricity had been cut off because she owed R700 on her account, but she had no idea where she would find the money.
Hlekiso, too, was without power and on her way to a moneylender to borrow the money to settle her account. Despite these hardships, she remained grateful.
“I will vote ANC. We got these houses from Mandela. We are very grateful to him.”
Mdindwa said she was afraid of crime.
“If I’m stabbed now the ambulance will only come tomorrow, then I’m finished, it takes very long,” she said.
DA member Anneline Montzinger, 38, believes the system is rigged.
Her electricity mains unit was fried, but she’d been told she must fix it herself.
She’d been to Prince’s office and been told “we don’t help DA people”.
“They said it to my face and I wasn’t helped,” she said.
“The ANC has governed for long, but if we give the DA a chance we can see, maybe something will change.”
Her belief was shared by fruit seller, taxi driver and sometime street cleaner in the Community Works Programme Ralph Mathison, 39.
He believed municipal work was shared out fairly and could vouch for the fact that his hawker’s licence came with no strings attached, but he said only “certain” houses were attended to by the municipality.
“This year I’m going to vote DA for the first time. Maybe they’ll bring change in the town – the ANC is doing nothing.
“In our neighbourhood, Rustdene, some roads get tarred and the others not. They fix some people’s houses and the rest are neglected, that’s how it works there, they do it to get their votes.”
Seemingly unaware this was controversial, Sophia Koopman, 38, said she got her job in the Community Works Programme by applying to the ANC office.
Her fellow workers agreed.
The eight- days- a- month work in the CWP and his RDP home have not satisfied Nkosikho Aubrey Klaasen, orange- clad 52, who said he was jailed in 1981 for burning down the rent office over a housing grievance.
“I’ve been complaining for three years about my house with holes in the walls, but they don’t take notice. If your toilet leaks, they say you must fix it yourself, they just look after the outside. They don’t care where you work or what your income is.
“The ANC in the council don’t take us seriously. Now it’s elections, they want to tell us what they will do – all the parties,” he said.
He was promised things would improve but they haven’t, in his book, since he was jailed over the same grievances.
“We were found guilty for destroying state property, but they asked that man, what are you going to do when these people get out and their houses are not built properly. When I got out in ‘83 it wasn’t done. Those houses you see now are still not fixed.”
On her way to the bank on the main road, DA member Elmarie Williams, 45, was equally scathing.
Municipal accounts are erratic and the meters are read infrequently, resulting in the occasional shock bill which must be settled immediately on pain of being cut off.
“Poverty and unemployment are the biggest problems, our town is busy going backwards and the people who are supposed to be in charge are busy with skelm things, they are stealing from the municipality, so there’s no money to deliver services.”
Prince, though, was confident the ANC had delivered enough progress since democracy to deserve power.
“It is (true) that some of those houses’ condition is not good, but the council doesn’t have money,” he said.
“But I can tell you that we are doing toilets, doors, we are fixing windows, specifically for those who cannot afford it. Did you see our new houses? It looks very nice. So the government is still moving forward, better and better.”
He dismissed suggestions only ANC supporters got his attention.
“You don’t have to vote for me to be acknowledged as a citizen of Beaufort West. The rights I’ve got, you also have,” he said.
“But, from a political point of view, it’s mos better if you vote for us, rather than to vote for somebody else, so if you vote for the ANC, I’ve got an eagerness to sort out your problem.”
He doesn’t rest on his laurels either and is working towards his doctoral thesis.
“The educational level is very important, I try to be an academic,” he said. The subject of his thesis? “I want to do liberation movements, how for 20 years they move into government, why after 20 years the people lose faith in them. Arrogance comes into play.”
Mayor of Beaufort West Truman Prince, right, believes you have to have passion to do his job.
Posters adorn the street poles in Kwamandlenkosi, Beaufort West.