Residents of Beaufort West in the Central Karoo are feeling the impact of years of political instability in the municipality.
Many go without basic services like water and refuse removal for weeks on end, as trucks break down and little or no maintenance is carried out. The town is essentially bankrupt as its debt far outstrips its revenues.
Beaufort West resident, Yolandi Moloy, remembers a time when things were different in the town.
“Beaufort West, a few years ago, was the most beautiful town where it was just wow. Down the road the streets were clean. People used to stop and take pictures. Nowadays it’s like truck drivers are attacked by community members. And it’s such a painful thing because people can’t stop here anymore. There’s nothing for them to stop. Just to go into the shops quickly and they go. Beafort West used to be like paradise. But now it’s like it doesn’t matter anymore. Everything is like all gone,” says Moloy.
The feeling of helplessness seems to permeate this whole town.
Other residents share Moloy’s sentiments and all blame corruption for the town’s decline.
Unemployed resident, Deborah Merring, says she is unhappy with the state the town is in.
“We live in Beaufort West. There’s no work. If there’s work at the municipality, then it’s outsourced. If you go out of Joburg, Cape Town, you must go through Beaufort West. To see Beaufort West like that is not really nice,” says Merring.
Another resident, Andre Freisler, says he had to leave town to look for a job elsewhere. He says he could not find work there because of corruption.
But he is most worried about the delivery of services.
“Concerning the issue of service delivery, it’s really very, very poor. You cannot even rate them out of a scale of one to ten. You can rather give them a minus zero. That’s how terrible it is. As you can see, look at the drain sewerage systems. It’s blocked with a lot of rubbish. But they are just not interested in people’s concerns,” says Freisler.
Following municipal elections in 2016, there was a hung council in Beaufort West as no party was able to win with an outright majority.
The DA then went into a coalition with a local party, the Karoo Democratic Force.
Councillor Derick Welgemoed says during the time they were in charge, things began to change for the better.
“The DA was in charge only since 2016 till 2018 and the the KDF went over to the ANC. In those two years, I remember Jaapie van Der Linde was the mayor at that stage. They managed to bring the overdraft down dramatically. There was almost no overdraft. If you look at a municipality like Beaufort West today, it’s gonna take at least five years to fix it. It’s broken (down). It’s gone. It’s mismanaged into the ground,” says Welgemoed.
ANC Regional Secretary in the Central Karoo, Windy Plaatjies, says in the few months they shared power with the KDF, changes are also beginning to happen.
“Never have we given real attention to the Auditor General’s outcomes to deal with consequence management. That has never happened in the municipality. If you go there now, they are seriously dealing with it now. People have been suspended, people have been put on precautionary leave. Because why? They are cleaning up,” says Plaatjies.
The KDF says, despite the changes after working with the ANC, the problem is the party leader, and the current Council Speaker, Noel Constable, is facing fraud charges.
Constable insists he will not vacate his position.
“If I step aside like the ANC is doing, I say that I am guilty – and I know I am not guilty – and also, if I move out, where will I get the funding to make sure that I can pay my representation? I have to look for another job? I have to go look for something else? So, it will be difficult. I am looking at my ANC partners and look at some of them and what? Where will they find the funds to pay the lawyers?”
Independent researcher, Dr Harlan Cloete, says power is with the residents.
“Who benefits from this? It’s the corrupt politicians and the corrupt administrators who run this municipality as if it’s their own, where they create political opportunity for their own; where they appoint people; where they are not fit for purpose; where they appoint people into positions; where they return favours to one another. And people must vote them out. But in a lot of these communities, people say better the devil you know than the one you don’t know,” says Cloete.