Colesberg shut down … well, sort of …

BY PHAKAMISA MAYABA / It’s early morning, and Julius Malema casts a shadow apparently long enough to spook an entire town out of sleep. A rare but distinct noise reverberates through Kuyasa Township. Booming baritones, thundering feet, clarion whistling, it could only mean one thing: a toi-toi!

The numbers are initially paltry, the singing barely loud enough to rouse a baby. Down Bendlela Street the one-leg-up march trundles. In dribs and drabs people join the ranks; the numbers swell, the singing growls.

Burglar doors clank shut as those shop owners who had hoped it would be business as usual second guess themselves. Law enforcement had promptly advised that to trade on the day might not be such a good idea.

By midday an eerie silence has descended on the township. For some reason the streets are noticeably quiet even for a slow Monday morning. Tomorrow the nation will be commemorating Human Rights Day in observance of the 69 (a number that has since been challenged) souls who perished under a hail of bullets – 1400 to be precise – whilst peacefully protesting against apartheid pass laws in what is known as the Sharpeville massacre in 1960.

Today, says EFF Provincial Command Team member Simphiwe Mrwarwaza, “we embark on a national shutdown that was planned in January. We have achieved what we set out to achieve. In Colesberg we are facing issues of electricity and water. Five wards are currently dependent on two water trucks to get by.”

Church Street resembled a ghost town. All images: eParkeni.

Usually bustling, Church Street is morbidly quiet. Apart from the filling station at the bottom end not a single door is open. The common buzz of a whirring pair of hair clippers and blow-dryers emanating from the various salons lining the street is muted. There isn’t a single vendor in sight. A vivacious woman in EFF regalia yells fervently from across the road, “noba babize amabherete, oksalayo siyvalile idorophi” – “they may have called in the special forces what remains is that we have shut the town down.”

A lone white man cuts an unusual figure ambling casually up into the township. Perhaps he’s been tipped off that while the protesters are now in town, some of the braver township spaza shops are selling through the back door.

Outside Shoprite, a sea of red shirts have assembled. Although the doors are tightly shut Mrwarwaza and his fellow Fighters are awaiting the last employees to vacate the premises so that the Fighters can officially call it a day. The store had been ready to trade but were dissuaded in the early morning by the protest.

Across the road, seated along the promenade of mostly foreign-owned shopfronts, more Fighters keep a watchful eye. A few feet away is an uncommon sight in Colesberg; an armoured vehicle, camera mounted on the roof. Occasionally a police van drives slowly by.

A police armoured vehicle, a rare sight in Colesberg.

Mrwarwaza alleges that “in the municipality there’s a lot of nepotism. Some services are not being rendered effectively by the municipality…those areas that are not run by the ANC, let’s say run by Umsobomvu Residents Association (URA) they (the municipality) will delay those services.”

He laments that there are serious societal issues of unemployment and drug abuse ravaging the town. Training programmes where certain people are recycled to benefit. “This is also the case with short-term jobs where they (the municipality) go for the same people.” He goes on to say that a forensic investigation conducted by the MEC for Co-operative Governance, Human Settlements and Traditional Affairs (Coghsta) which implicated senior officials at the municipality has since been interdicted by Umsobomvu Municipality. “Why does the municipality interdict the report, rather than implement its recommendations,” he rhetorically asks.

Meanwhile on the street, many of the assembled Fighters are drawn from URA, the political organisation that had aimed to challenge the ANC at the 2021 local government elections. They won 29.29% of the vote and have four seats in council.

Although Mrwarwaza is content that they have achieved what they had hoped for, it would seem that this was gotten through peaceful means. There isn’t a single burning tyre, or upturned dustbin or barricade. Shop doors remain intact. A bulk of the protesters look like they just left school yesterday. Many of them have never worked or gotten the opportunity to study further. One is doubtful that were they in gainful employment, forged with a sense of purpose, that they would’ve come out in their numbers today.

EFF marchers taking a break.

Like Christopher*, the lone white man eParkeni bumped into earlier, in their eyes is a yearning for something lost. In his younger years, Christopher was in the tender-bidding space. He had the twin cab, the suburban four bedroom house with a pool, a blonde wife and kids. But when the tenders stopped coming, everything went, including his family. Nowadays, nursing a few self-destructive habits, he is on that downward spiral that’s always waiting to chew up anybody who’s lost their sense of purpose. For the Fighters who went there not necessarily for clout but for the promise of an opportunity to uplift themselves, for Christopher, for those who wanted to have their say but were too hungry, too despondent or had simply just given up, this one’s for you.

Umsobomvu Municipality could not comment as, they say, had not been furnished with a petition.

* Not his real name.

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