For the past few years I have followed the struggle of the people of Malamulele to be granted their own municipality with great interest. The documentation that the Malamulele leadership has produced to justify the granting of a municipality is cogent and formidable. It is indeed an impressive scholarly piece of work. It is compelling and should convince anyone about the dire need to grant the status of a municipality.
Last week the Municipal Demarcation Board produced a 130-page document to rebut the submission of the Malamulele people. The final verdict is that in terms of the current law Malamulele does not satisfy the requirements to be granted the status of a municipality separate from Thulamela. I have not read the entire report but it is clear that it is a meticulously crafted report and the final word on the matter. South Africa is a constitutional democracy and all citizens are entitled to rights contained in the constitution. So the meticulous report of the Demarcation Board goes head to head with the formidable input of the people of Malamulele.
Unless I misunderstand the law, the report of the Demarcation Board’s word on the matter is final. Even the national minister of Local government has explained that the Demarcation Board has the final word. What the Board is saying is that the law has a set criteria that determines demarcation and that the submission by the Malamulele people does not meet the criteria. This is critical because the Board concerns itself mostly with the law and the criteria while the Malamulele input is based on service delivery and tribal affiliation.
In my view it is time that the leaders of Malamulele reviewed the situation in the best interests of the community. Leaders who take their people on any form of mass action and protest must understand their responsibility. Somebody, or a group of people, always initiate mass action to address an issue that worries or negatively affects the community. The community itself is mobilized by a particular leadership. This leadership has a great responsibility to the community.
Critical to the leadership of Malamulele is making a distinction between strategy and tactics. The TOTAL SHUTDOWN programme of the leadership of Malamulele needs to be interrogated. Is it a strategy or a tactic? As an outsider it does not look like the community, following its leadership, is seriously considering the question of strategy and tactics in their struggle. However, this is a matter for the leadership rather than the community. The masses will always be ready to follow the leadership.
There is a disturbing development in South Africa whereby communities dissatisfied with government delivery of services resorts to bringing education to a standstill so as to attract the attention of government and the nation. This is emotional blackmail of the worst kind. But let’s pause for a while and ask a simple question: whose children are being sacrificed in these situations?
It is not the children of the government whose education is being put on hold. It is the children of Malamulele that are now losing a whole month of education and its dire consequences. They will lag behind all other children in Limpopo and in South Africa and they will not get the grades required to qualify for university admission. It is these learners and their parents who will be the ultimate losers.
When the Malamulele mass action dust is settled, it will be everyone for himself and herself and the leaders will go on with their lives. The community will feel betrayed when they look at their children and compare them with the children of the leaders who are most probably affected by the current mayhem. Fingers will be pointed at the leaders by disillusioned community members when they finally realize that the game is over.
It is therefore important for the leaders to honestly face the reality confronting Malamulele and their mass action. The leaders must convene a proper and sober community meeting and explain the ruling of the Demarcation Board as is and explaion to the community that they have reached the end of the road. In the same way that the leaders convened the first meeting to put the matter of a municipality on the community agenda, they must persuade the community to end the mass action. This advice for tactical retreat and review the matter in light of the current report by the Demarcation Board. This is revolutionary honesty. The leadership must renew their mandate if the mass action is to continue.
It is in this context that the government of Limpopo should also demonstrate some leadership. The cries of the people of Malamulele must be given due attention. The allegations that service delivery seems to be confined to the Venda-speaking areas of Thulamela should not be dismissed but taken seriously by the provincial government. A serious investigation must be instituted and a mechanism developed to ensure that all groupings in Thulamela are treated equally. An honest evaluation and assessment of where most services are going is an absolute imperative and the Premier of the province must be seen to be leading in this regard to give the people of Malamulele hope for the future.
The danger of continuing the TOTAL SHUTDOWN at this stage is that the unity of the community is going to be eroded with time as ordinary people get tired of the struggle and have a sense of the futility of the mass action. It is always better to call off mass action when there is still unity of purpose than to wait for mass action fatique to set in. Accusations and counter accusations become the order of the day when mass action has been overdone and there are no prospects of victory. It is time for the Malamulele leadership to lead or else the consequences, to quote an unfortunate phrase, “are too ghastly to contemplate.”