NEWS

Lichtenburg And Coligny: The Tensions That Lie Beneath

Despite having two separate causes, violent protests in the two neighbouring towns belie enormous problems of poverty and service provision.

26/04/2017 18:21 SAST | Updated 27/04/2017 06:22 SAST
Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
Farmers work on a land outside Lichtenburg, a maize-growing area in the North West province, South Africa November 26, 2015. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Analysis

When violent protests broke out in Coligny in the North West this week in response to the death of a 12-year-old boy, residents say most of the police were occupied in neighbouring Lichtenburg where protests about service delivery were underway.

Both outbreaks were violent and residents speculate they fed off each other, but their causes appear to be vastly different.

North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo has appointed a task team to probe the reasons for the protests, and in the absence of any official details the details are murky. But it is clear that in the two small towns belonging to the Ditsobotla municipality, tensions and poverty lie beneath the violence.

In Lichtenburg, residents protested about basic service delivery issues and also called for the removal of mayor Daniel Buthelezi. In Coligny, residents were protesting over the death of a 12-year-old boy, allegedly beaten for stealing sunflower seeds.

Pit these issues against the backdrop of a very poor, rural community, and if some media is anything to go by, a community clearly divided along racial lines. It seems the situation was a match waiting to be lit.

Death of young boy
According to community members interviewed by HuffPost SA, a 12-year-old boy was caught stealing sunflower seeds on a farm near Coligny last week.

Two farmers put the child on the back of their bakkie and wanted to take him to the police station. So far, this version is supported by community members.

Different accounts say the child died after falling off the back of the bakkie, while others say he was beaten and fell over.

Two men handed themselves in or were arrested.

The death sparked protests with houses and trucks being set alight and shops ransacked.

The town of Coligny was calm on Wednesday, although most shops stayed closed following the looting which occurred the previous afternoon.

An agricultural supplier was also set alight.

A declining municipality
The most recent data available for the municipality shows one that is deteriorating exponentially every year.

At the end of the 2013 financial year, the municipality had a negative cash balance of R8.7 million. By the end of 2015, that figure had multiplied to a negative cash balance of over R323 million.

The municipality has received consecutive disclaimers of opinion from the Auditor-General for four years.

At the end of 2016, City Press reported that the municipality borrowed R1.8 million to pay salaries.

It later borrowed R20 million from a bank for the same reason.

In its annual report of 2015/2016, the most recently available one, the municipality reveals that it has an unemployment rate of 28%, leaving it with a very low revenue base. But its service delivery problems go deeper. It was without a municipal manager for years. The provincial government appointed two administrators, effectively taking over the running of the municipality.

When a municipal manager was finally appointed, it was none other than Monde Juta, seconded to Ditsobotla, from the Madibeng municipality in the North West which erupted with violent protests just two years ago.

Juta had been suspended from his position at Madibeng twice amid fraud allegations.

Poor basic services
Among the many, many problems listed by the municipality are: the Lichtenburg water works treatment plant does not function; there are waste blockages in several areas due; some landfill sites have had to close; and only 10 of the 23 boreholes in the municipality are functional.

Only 56% of residents in the formal towns, including Lichtenburg and Coligny, have refuse removal services. Only 44% of households access to flushing toilets, and 20% of people living in RDP houses have no access to sanitation.

The municipality also owes Eskom R121 million. Distobotla suffers from internal capacity constraints, but it also has trouble getting help from the private sector because it has no supply chain unit, and that function is performed on an ad hoc basis.

The latest census data (2011) says the municipality has a population of just over 168 000. The average household income, taken as a median value, is just R29 400 per year.

In both protests, levels of violence appeared to be equally high. One woman told News24 how her house was petrol bombed with her pets still inside. She said a large group of men had approached her wielding knives on Tuesday morning and she was forced to leave her house.

The target of some of these attacks appear to have been farmers, and one truck with over 30,000 chicks caught fire on Friday morning.

Another man recounted to news website Maroela Media how his business was ransacked.

Trucking company owner Cobus van Tonder told the website how his trucks were torched.

On Wednesday afternoon, with more than a dozen people in custody relating to the looting, calm appeared to have reached the two towns.

But it is clear that the underlying tensions in Ditsobotla are far from resolved.