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In full sight and in broad day­light, the heavy con­struc­tion ve­hi­cles ar­rived. They came to cover up a ten­der gone hor­ri­bly wrong — to erase its faults and im­per­fec­tions, ac­cord­ing to the res­i­dents of Glen­more, near Peddie, in the East­ern Cape.

They robbed this ru­ral com­mu­nity of the only recre­ational fa­cil­ity they had — their sports field.

“I think it was a cover-up,” says Buyisele Mago­b­iyane (39) about the sud­den ap­pear­ance of yel­low bull­doz­ers and other ve­hi­cles in their vil­lage late last year. “They re­moved all the grass that had been planted there and flat­tened out the run­ning track. We were not told any­thing. No plans, noth­ing.”

The “cover-up” is part of a twoand-a-half year strug­gle the res­i­dents have waged with the Ngqushwa lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal­ity over the venue. The grounds are at the edge of the Great Fish River Na­ture Re­serve. The vista from where the res­i­dents once played foot­ball and net­ball or boxed is breath­tak­ing.

They had built a fence around the field to keep out wan­der­ing live­stock and had tended the grounds them­selves. It had helped to knit to­gether an iso­lated com­mu­nity with very lit­tle to do other than to go to church or visit the three she­beens in the vil­lage.

It is a R35 one-way trip to the near­est large town, Gra­ham­stown, and R25 to Peddie. There are no jobs in Glen­more; the youth are con­demned to un­em­ploy­ment un­less they move away. The sports field had be­come the vil­lage’s heart, pump­ing with so­cial ac­tiv­ity, pro­mot­ing a healthy life­style and build­ing up a sense of com­mu­nity.

“We had three net­ball teams, which played here reg­u­larly,” says Gco­bisa Xolisi, a 17-year-old grade 11 pupil at the lo­cal high school and an avid net­ball player. “We were train­ing three times a week and play­ing competitive matches on week­ends but, when the build­ing started, all that stopped.”

Dur­ing the 2015-2016 fi­nan­cial year, the mu­nic­i­pal­ity pro­posed a R2.4-mil­lion “up­grade” of the venue. Dur­ing the mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s in­te­grated de­vel­op­ment plan con­sul­ta­tion process, res­i­dents had ex­pressed a need for houses and flush­ing toi­lets.

But they had been con­vinced by mu­nic­i­pal of­fi­cials to ac­cept the up­grade, oth­er­wise they “would not fea­ture in the bud­get”, peo­ple said.

The venue was shut for four months in 2016 while the mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s pre­ferred con­trac­tor, Mgun­culu Trad­ing, built change-rooms and seat­ing ar­eas, land­scaped the ground around the sports field, planted new grass on the field and in­stalled new mul­ti­pur­pose goal­posts for foot­ball and rugby and built ce­ment courts for net­ball and bas­ket­ball.

But the end re­sult was a dis­as­ter. The posts were of such poor qual­ity that they have been blown over sev­eral times. In De­cem­ber last year, they were bro­ken, hang­ing like snapped metal skele­tons. The grass did not take and the fields have de­gen­er­ated into un­even “clay pits”, the courts are of poor qual­ity, the chang­ing rooms un­us­able and the “land­scap­ing” ap­pears to be hy­per­bole for shrubs and weeds.

The field has caused divisions in the com­mu­nity — a gen­er­a­tional rift over how to pur­sue a rec­ti­fi­ca­tion process, which the mu­nic­i­pal­ity has opened. The el­ders have coun­selled a sub­tle approach, but the young­sters favour more rad­i­cal ac­tion to be taken against the Ngqushwa lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal­ity. There is also in­fight­ing be­tween the dif­fer­ent sport­ing codes on what to do about the situation.

The ef­fects on a com­mu­nity that had, un­til the mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s in­ter­ven­tion, been do­ing it for them­selves is pro­found.

Siphokazi Nela (25), who is un­em­ployed, says: “Yoh! Rob­bery, rape … these have all been on the in­crease in the com­mu­nity since we have stopped play­ing sport. One of our [net­ball] play­ers was raped [last] year because the boys have noth­ing to do any­more. Peo­ple are drink­ing more and house break-ins have also in­creased.”

Gco­bisa says the net­ball teams have to walk far — some­times for up to two hours — to neigh­bour­ing vil­lages that have sports fa­cil­i­ties. Along the way they are ha­rassed by men, and the teams of­ten lose matches because their en­ergy has been sapped by the long walks.

When the mu­nic­i­pal­ity ar­rived on its de­mo­li­tion mis­sion in De­cem­ber 2017, the res­i­dents halted it. They be­moaned the ab­sence of con­sul­ta­tion and de­manded that the mu­nic­i­pal­ity had to con­sult them to en­sure their needs were ful­filled. Res­i­dents also re­quested in­for­ma­tion about the bud­get al­lo­cated to fix the grounds.

The lo­cal coun­cil­lor and mu­nic­i­pal man­ager were un­able to pro­vide this but promised to find out and re­port back to them. Four months later the peo­ple of Glen­more are still wait­ing for the in­for­ma­tion.

Em­bold­ened by a pro­gramme run by Afe­sis-Cor­plan, a non­govern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion work­ing to en­trench par­tic­i­pa­tory democ­racy in the East­ern Cape, the Glen­more res­i­dents have been us­ing pub­lic doc­u­ments such as mu­nic­i­pal bud­gets and in­te­grated de­vel­op­ment plans to hold lo­cal gov­ern­ment ac­count­able. They are adamant they will not let up un­til the mu­nic­i­pal­ity acts in a man­ner that recog­nises their right to par­tic­i­pate in the func­tion­ing of their lives.

On April 25 this year the Glen­more com­mu­nity marched to the mu­nic­i­pal of­fices to hand over a pe­ti­tion de­mand­ing in­for­ma­tion about the grounds. The march fol­lowed fu­tile at­tempts to have the provin­cial de­part­ment of co-op­er­a­tive gov­er­nance and mu­nic­i­pal of­fi­cers present at a re­cent com­mu­nity ind­aba. Mayor Mnikelo Si­wisa had barred of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing the ward coun­cil­lor, from at­tend­ing the ind­aba and was not present when the pe­ti­tion was handed over.

The march was peace­ful but the gates to the mu­nic­i­pal of­fice were locked. Po­lice and pri­vate se­cu­rity guards guarded the en­trance.

Afe­sis-Cor­plan’s Lin­dokuhle Vellem points to re­cent vi­o­lent protests in the coun­try and to the quick re­sponse of mu­nic­i­pal of­fi­cials to the fires and loot­ing. “Is that what we need to do to get our point across? To have our voices heard? The mayor says he won’t come when com­mu­ni­ties call him, that he is the one who calls com­mu­ni­ties for meet­ings. But this is not how the law and the Con­sti­tu­tion un­der­stands par­tic­i­pa­tory democ­racy.”

Po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and aca­demic Steven Fried­man says the state of­ten fails to “treat cit­i­zens as cit­i­zens”, es­pe­cially when they ex­er­cise their right to par­tic­i­pate in de­ci­sions af­fect­ing them be­tween elec­tions. “We lead the world in set­ting up par­tic­i­pa­tory fo­rums for cit­i­zens but we sub­stan­tially trail the world in cit­i­zens ac­tu­ally par­tic­i­pat­ing in de­ci­sions that af­fect them.”

He says con­sul­ta­tion is usu­ally a “phoney ex­er­cise” because the state is averse to “cit­i­zens ask­ing tough ques­tions”, adding the mind-set “preva­lent” among mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties is that “cit­i­zens can par­tic­i­pate as long as it is on gov­ern­ment’s terms and not on the com­mu­nity’s terms”.

Co-op­er­a­tive Gov­er­nance Min­is­ter Zweli Mkhize ad­mits “a lot needs to be done to im­prove stake­holder in­ter­ac­tions with gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials” at mu­nic­i­pal level. He says dis­af­fected peo­ple ig­nored by lo­cal gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials should approach their MPs to “es­ca­late” their is­sues to the na­tional level.

“If these is­sues are raised, through MPs, with min­is­ters in Par­lia­ment we will make ev­ery ef­fort to re­solve them. I cer­tainly will en­sure that my de­part­ment re­sponds,” Mkhize says.

The rum­ble of heavy ma­chin­ery in­tent on de­struc­tion and era­sure has a loud echo for the Glen­more com­mu­nity, which was forcibly dumped here in 1979.

Their el­ders re­mem­ber South African De­fence Force sol­diers knock­ing down their front doors, ty­ing up and blind­fold­ing peo­ple and then throw­ing them into the backs of trucks. They were later dumped in Glen­more, as the bound­aries be­tween South Africa and its Ban­tus­tans, such as the Ciskei, were en­forced.

“Those were dark, ter­ri­ble days,” Wil­lie Bot­lani (60) says, re­call­ing a time when the apartheid gov­ern­ment acted with im­punity in the mid­dle of the night. But the cur­rent gov­ern­ment is act­ing with the same im­punity, and even in day­light — a gov­ern­ment peo­ple had hoped would be more re­spon­sive and sym­pa­thetic.

The Glen­more project makes the consequences of state and ANC dys­func­tion bla­tant.

Mgun­culu Trad­ing lists Onke Mgun­culu as its sole di­rec­tor — he is the ANC Amath­ole re­gional trea­surer and part of a fac­tion that sup­ports for­mer ANC pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma.

Mgun­culu is also close to the Amath­ole re­gional sec­re­tary, Them­balethu Ntutu, who was re­cently forced by the courts to pay R313 000 back to the Mn­quma lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal­ity af­ter be­ing charged with fraud and cor­rup­tion re­lat­ing to a R10-mil­lion refuse bag ten­der.

Mgun­culu says he com­pleted the project ac­cord­ing to the specifications and blames the mu­nic­i­pal­ity for not wa­ter­ing the grass and main­tain­ing the fa­cil­ity, which is why it be­came derelict and was van­dalised.

But Glen­more res­i­dents dis­miss this ex­pla­na­tion. They say the ground was never us­able, right from the time when the “re­fur­bish­ment” had been “com­pleted”.

An in­de­pen­dent asses­sor hired by Afe­sis-Cor­plan found the work done may have cost ap­prox­i­mately R1.6-mil­lion. The ten­der was for an orig­i­nal R2.4-mil­lion plus a bud­get in­crease of R470 000 for “ad­di­tional work”.

Mgun­culu de­nies that in­fe­rior ma­te­rial was used and in­sists “the project was of very good qual­ity”. The mu­nic­i­pal­ity has in­sti­tuted a foren-

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