South African journalist Mweli Masilela, who works for the Newzroom Afrika news channel, visited Standerton this month. It testifies :

It was shocking. Everyone I have spoken to has told me that this is the first time they have seen the area in this condition. And even I had never seen it here.

On August 4, several municipal officers in Standerton belonging to the South African Union of Municipal Workers (SAMWU) went on strike. They denounce the lack of personal protective equipment, dangerous working conditions and demand an increase in their wages of 6.25%. After a month-long strike, these SAMWU agents apologized to residents, explaining that they would not return to work until their demands were taken into consideration by local authorities.

Claims of municipal officials. Photos posted on August 25 on Facebook.

Municipal workers burn tires in front of the mayor of Lekwa to protest against their working conditions. Photo posted on Facebook on September 1.

Journalist Mweli Masilela continues:

City workers demanded Lekwa’s municipal service manager to resign over corruption allegations [la municipalité de Lekwa est accusée d’avoir dépensé de l’argent en voitures et en gardes du corps privés alors que les infrastructures publiques se détérioraient, NDLR]. They believe that municipal officials are compromising their safety because they are not able to provide their workers with adequate personal protective equipment.

In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, the accumulation of garbage in the streets is worrying. While municipal workers continue to strike, some garbage has been collected, sporadically, by the “Lekwa Clean Up Crew”, a group of citizens.

Photos published on August 31 by the Lekwa Clean Up Crew group.

Residents of Standerton also face intermittent power cuts, and receive poor quality tap water. According to several locals, these problems began with the implementation of lockdown in South Africa on March 26 – which led to an increase in electricity consumption by households.

Individual electricity bills are paid to the municipality, which in turn pays Eskom, the South African public electricity supplier. However, the municipality of Lekwa must repay a debt of just over one billion rand (50 million euros), to which are added significant penalties, in Eskom. The cuts allow, according to the authorities, to avoid a general blackout while the municipality pays its debt. The problem is that they affect the operation of other utilities, such as water pumps and treatment plants.

The inhabitants are also very affected:

They all spend around eight hours a day without electricity, which is very problematic, for example in nursing homes where people cannot prepare to eat during this time of the pandemic. Many businesses have had to close because of these blackouts. Some use alternative energy sources, such as solar power and generators, but it is very expensive. And, without electricity, it is difficult to run a business. At butchers, for example, there is no more meat in stock because it ends up rotting in the refrigerators.

This is not the first time that Lekwa Municipality’s debts to Eskom have caused hardship. In 2019, penalties imposed by Eskom on municipal services resulted in a series of cuts causing sewage pollution in the Vaal River, a major local water source.

On August 31, a judge ordered Eskom to restore power to residents of Lekwa. Lekwa’s director of municipal services, Gugulethu Mhlongo-Ntshangase, will have to answer to him in court for not having provided an “adequate” public service.

Article written by Pariesa Young.

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