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-