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The South Africa that shouldn't exist

Bekkersdal has become one of the focal points of the simmering discontent with the ANC government.
Last modified: 4 May 2014 13:32
Johannesburg, South Africa - Carved in the dry highveld known as the West Rand, the township of Bekkersdal is a stark emblem of the broken dream of millions of South Africans who live in squalor across the country.
 
Rubbish lies strewn across the streets, open sewage drips down and flows between rusty metal drums holding fresh fruit and vegetables for sale.
 
In the informal settlements strewn across the township, where there is no running water, electricity or sanitation, election posters urging residents to exercise their vote hang perilously from wire-mesh fences that surround donkey-drop outside toilets.
 
The township, built in 1945 is home to 50,000 people, many of whom are employed, or have been employed at some time, in the gold mines surrounding the township.
 
Bekkersdal, however, has become one of the focal points of the simmering discontent with the South African government and its failures to to serve all its people.
 
"Is this a township of a scrapyard, we don't know any more," Thapeng Wesi, head of Greatern Westonaria Concerned Residents Association in Bikkersdal, said.
 
Resident have repeatedly said they wouldn't vote until the premier of the Gauteng province, Nomvula Mokonyane, offered an apology for calling their votes "dirty".

Mokonyane, reportedly fatigued by being jeered by residents during a visit in October 2013, said: "People can threaten us and say they won’t vote but the ANC doesn’t need their dirty votes."

The comments drew outrage and the residents made it known that the ANC was no longer welcome here. In February 2014, two voter registration stations were petrol-bombed as part of residents' demands that voting should not take place until the local municipality was dissolved. These residents cite corruption, nepotism in the ranks of the local government for the failure to address their grievances.
 
Thembani Mhlonithwa, 38, was playing a card game with friends on the side of a gravel road alongside thousands of informal houses made of metal, wood and plastic - said he won't be able to vote because "people" didn't allow him to register at the time.
 
Violent service delivery protests in Bekkersdal - the precursor to the move to boycott the polls - intensified in mid 2013 with police officers armed with tear gas and rubber bullets routinely holding running battles with residents shutting down streets, burning tyres and pelting stones. A municipal building has been trashed and burnt
 
There are allegations of mob justice created to deal with rising incidents of  crime, which the local police will neither confirm or deny. The bolstered security presence has not vacated the township in the run-up to the polls with the police setting up satellite stations on the outskirts.
 
Rising political intolerance
 
Bekkersdal is just one township among many in a larger story of rising disenchantment with the ruling party and its leader Jacob Zuma that has made this election the most aggressive since 1994.
 
Protests against poor delivery of services has become a chronic problem for the ANC-led government. In the Gauteng province alone, where Bekkersdal is situated, at least six such protests take place daily, with 20 per cent of all protests across the province turning violent in one form or another.
 
Political intolerance is an oft repeated theme in conversations with residents here, with many refusing to express an opinion for fear of reprisal attacks from the ANC or the vast conglomeration of fierce opposition parties trying to make in-roads among the poor, the unemployed and the idle.
 
And when residents were ready to speak politics, they found it hard to articulate their political positions. One woman, in her fifties, dressed in ANC apparel, walking under the shade of an umbrella, said: "Our kids have turned into political gangsters here ... they are killing each other."
 
Earlier this year, ANC leaders going door to door to campaign in Bekkersdal were chased away with stones. And while both pro and anti ANC factions in the community complain of repression, some explain the aggression as a by-product of ANC arrogance, and years of broken promises.
 
More worryingly, residents say the witch-hunt of political opponents has become a nightly affair. For its part, the ANC refuses to allow the inhospitality it has been treated to in Bekkersdal to become the status quo.
 
And after threatening "a large rally" that would stamp their presence on the township for the past few week, a number of government ministers arrived on Saturday for a "walk through" the township.
 
Late President Nelson Mandela's ex-wife Winnie Mandela also arrived to address the township.
 
So too, did police officers, in nyalas [casbahs] and pick-up trucks, armed profusely with riot gear - arrive in the township in their hundreds as well - seemingly prepared for a war.
 
Bekkersdal is the not the South Africa that should even exist.