The local voice of the ANC

PHAKAMISA MAYABA / When asking after one Siyabulela Phololo in Colesberg, you are likely to be met with blank stares. That’s because the podgy, diminutive chairperson of the ANC’s Krakra Maciki branch is universally known as Shuta – the short one – and whatever he lacks in centimetres, he makes up with an accessible, humorous personality.

His peaceable temperament notwithstanding, the political position he occupies has been a source of respect as well as scorn, the latter often bordering on the extreme. Last year, in what he believes to have been a politically motivated attack, his treasured bakkie was torched. He has endured various slurs since since 2014, when he was serving as chairperson of the local ANC Youth League. He has had a few close political shaves, but continues to weather the storms.

At the same time, his political reach should not be underestimated. The ANC is the majority party in the local municipal council, and – as this interview reveals — the party clearly displays a significant degree of ownership over its actions. Moreover, Shuta is the municipal head of communications, which further extends his local role.

Of course, as a result of our PR electoral system, there are no local candidates for the national and provincial elections on 29 May – the names of candidates appear on national and provincial lists which are not tied to individual constituencies. (We intend to write about this in the future.) However, local parties are expected to campaign for their parties, and the ANC is no exception. All of this puts Shuta in a good position to comment on local politics and governance as well as the forthcoming elections.

In fact, on the evening of our interview, we found Shuta in the upbeat company of ‘comrades’ and volunteers, fresh from campaign work, with Struggle-era dirges blaring through bulky speakers out on the patio. We’re hoping that the chair of the ruling party in the region will respond to questions that have been the cause of both protest and support in the area of late.

As a ‘persuader’ charged with wooing disaffected, disillusioned or undecided voters into the ANC fold, what’s his shtick? Disarmingly, he says: ‘We can’t run away from the fact that we have inherited a big organisation that is old. Any building that is 112 years old will have its own issues where you need to renovate, refurbish, get rid of some things, and extend.’

Referring to the ‘renewal process’ that the party has undertaken, he asserts that the dissatisfaction with the movement was orchestrated by people who have left the ANC. ‘They’ve done those things under the umbrella of the movement. We need to take the ANC through cleansing. We need to listen to the masses, and hear what they are saying.’

Phololo with a cadre who has returned to the ANC after defecting to the EFF. Image: Facebook.

Coming a little closer to home, he acknowledges that ‘people in Umsobomvu [Municipality] are not happy about their housing. They’re not happy with how the ANC used to hire the services offered.’ Specifically on the housing issue, he mentions a pilot project that was started but then frozen in about 2014. Now, he says, the project is ‘up and running’ and 50 houses are currently being built.

Next up is the charge that middle-class people in the community aren’t benefiting from RDP housing. In response, Phololo says the municipality is just about the only one that offers sites at affordable prices (R5 000 excluding transfer costs, and no more than R10 000 when those costs are factored in) to this group of people. Historically, this group has tended to purchase RDP houses, only to demolish them later and build bigger ones. Therefore, allocating a specific (non-RDP) area to them has empowered the municipality to charge rates, thereby boosting the local fiscus. A total of 150 sites have been made available, of which 50 have been reserved for municipal workers, who often find themselves in dire straits upon retirement.

He acknowledges that the Riemvasmaak housing project has been affected by corruption. The government has found that no fewer than 100 houses were dubiously allocated, and is therefore pushing for an investigation, aimed at bringing the culprits to book.

On the tragedy of the Ou Boks project, the dilapidated houses that eParkeni has reported on, he says: ‘We can’t yet confirm that those houses are earmarked for demolition.’ The department of Human settlements, the custodian of those homes, are doing inspections to ascertain whether ‘it is feasible to continue building on those walls, or we should demolish them and start them afresh’.

On the burning topic of jobs:

The municipality has taken a lot of flak for allegedly not following due process and indulging in nepotism in favour the ANC supporters when it comes to temporary employment on road works in the area. As a result, says Phololo, the municipality has embarked on community outreach programmes, and gone as far as insisting that contractors hand out forms to all job-seekers. Also, he claims the municipal ‘database’ of job-seekers was ‘misinterpreted.’

‘We were compiling an unemployment database for us to be informed. Currently, we are leading communities where we don’t know how many matriculants are here … or security guards or operators.’ As such, the municipality’s goal is to develop local contractors so that all employees will come from here.’ He vehemently denies allegations that it only employs people from particular parties.

Also, he doesn’t support the shuffling of IDs (drawing the identity documents of job seekers at random out of a box), because the goal is to prioritise and empower impoverished households.

Given the extent of unemployment and general poverty in the area, we ask, surely the number of applicants will always exceed the available jobs, and any attempt at prioritising won’t realise its objective? Also, there seems to be an overwhelming consensus in the community that the ‘shuffling’ method would give everybody an equal shot.

Phololo doesn’t budge: ‘This was a process that the white man used during apartheid, because he didn’t care about our living conditions. In itself, that process indicates a lack of leadership.’

The prioritising, we continue, may make some sense, and the database also, but the question remains: in light of the rampant poverty and huge demand for unskilled labour, would the ‘shuffling’ which is seen as fair and unbiased by the majority of residents not avoid some of the violent flare-ups that have plagued the town in recent months?

Due to people who have piecemeal gigs and might not be able to turn up; those who don’t even have IDs; or those who feel that they have been marginalised and simply no longer bother; he insists that this would not be correct.

But he admits there are nefarious elements in the municipality.Could those people not also tamper with the database and, by default, the employment process? No, he says, because now the municipality, through its community outreach programmes, aims to play open cards with the people.

On the issue of electricity meters being blocked when residents fail to pay their rates in certain areas and not in others, does this not create the impression of preferential treatment? There are, he says, political parties which interpret this matter in racial terms, but this claim soon fails as well. He points out that ‘Riemvasmaak is a mixed-race area,’ and that the issue no longer rests with the local authority but at the national level and with Eskom.

On this score, the municipality is considering writing of all existing ratepayers’ debt, primarily because it has discovered that many people have built up arrears that they will never be able to pay. He also believes this will be a ‘first motivation’ to get people to pay their rates and taxes, thereby boosting the municipality’s revenue base, and enabling it to deliver better services.

He also encourages poor people to register as ‘indigents’, because ‘by law we can’t block an indigent.’ Every household earning less than R4 400 a month qualifies for indigent status.

He has a final message to disaffected voters: ‘People who damaged the movement are no longer in the movement. Most people are disgruntled because of issues over houses and issues over jobs, which were caused by people who were in leadership. The ANC, the movement and its own policies, have not done anyone wrong … hence we are saying to people, they should be open with us.

‘Our posture as the current leadership is to be servant leaders, not to be treated as kings. And when you’re a servant, you’ll understand that at some point those you are serving must come back and tell you where you’ve gone wrong. That’s why our people punished us in 2021, because some of us were too stubborn to listen to them. So we’re bringing back their ANC.’

He ends rather poetically by noting that, not so long ago, Riemvasmaak was a livestock encampment. Now it’s a thriving residential area with lights and paved roads. ‘So ons het nie alles gedoen nie, maar ons het baie gedoen.’

FEATURED IMAGE: Phololo placates irate residents during violent protests about job selections in October last year.

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared on Phakamisa’s website, eParkeni. Used with permission.


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