Residents of Bloemfontein decided to take ownership of the city by getting their hands dirty and cleaning neighborhoods themselves and making them shine again.
Poor service delivery, which has been the order of the day for the past few years, leaves residents discouraged and negative about the future of the city.
In some of the neighborhoods, weeds and grass are hip-high and whip grass is considered the new “rose” of the Rose City. Sewage flows like streams of water through the streets and garbage lies around every corner. Cars make huge turns around the potholes, or rather dongas, which are an eyesore for residents.
In the neighborhoods where neighborhood associations, organizations and political parties have already begun to intervene, it is a different picture. Rhewal drove through some of the neighborhoods and it is clear that those involved are reaping the rewards of their hard work.
“We want to show residents that there is light at the end of the dark tunnel,” says Anneke Anker, director of the Brandwag neighborhood association group and Bloemfontein neighborhood group (BNAG).
Along with the Brandwag neighborhood association group, there are also, among others, the Fichardtpark, Trots Pellisier and De Fleursig neighborhood associations and Langenhovenpark’s The Good News Club, which strives to create clean and safe environments where residents can live peacefully and in harmony .
Each group pays attention to different problems that the specific neighborhoods struggle with – garbage, sewage, water and power problems.
Other organizations such as AfriForum and Anchor of Hope are also helping to fix the city.
“Slowly but surely, these groups are increasing as the problems get bigger. Residents are also starting to notice the difference and are getting involved in the initiatives. They also see that we are here to help the people, not for political gain.”
The city is currently one big garbage dump with garbage that has not been driven away for the past six weeks. Staff who want to remove rubbish are reportedly threatened that the trucks will be set on fire.
Other forms of service delivery such as the repair of water and sewage leaks are also at a standstill. This is because municipal workers of the Mangaung metro are currently on strike because they apparently did not get their full salaries or overtime pay last month.
“The garbage not only looks and smells bad, it also poses a health risk to residents. It also attracts the wrong people to the neighborhoods who pretend they want to dig into the ‘trash’, but actually have a hidden agenda,” says Anker.
Last week, the BNAG together with the metro, residents and opposition parties drove away trucks full of garbage from the northern neighborhoods of the city. Francois Nel, acting head of the metro’s fleet and waste disposal, got behind the wheel of the truck himself to help.
The roses that AfriForum planted in Langenhoven Park last year as part of its Rose Tree Project are showing off more than a year later in the garden beds in Du Plessis Avenue.
This civil rights organization is going to clean Bloemfontein’s Memorium cemetery together with the DA and residents on Saturday.
This cemetery has been since 2019 with sewage overflowing and graves and tombstones regularly being vandalized. Most graves are already partially overgrown with weeds. Residents also feel unsafe here. Numerous incidents have been reported where criminals hid among the dense vegetation and then robbed residents.
About a month ago, Anker registered the Bloemfontein neighborhood association group (BNAG) as an umbrella organization in an attempt to create a common platform for the neighborhood associations.
“I want everyone in Bloemfontein to stand together and work towards a common goal. We can help each other with resources and manpower.”
This association will also help neighborhoods where neighborhood association groups have not yet been established.
Parks cleaned and tidied in Brandwag:
There are residents who have already taken drastic steps by moving to other neighborhoods or even saying goodbye to the city altogether.
According to Valerie de Kock, FF Plus councilor in the Mangaung metro, there is also no new development in the city because investors do not want to invest in “a dilapidated city”.
“Businesses have closed their doors in large numbers over the past three years due to the city’s economic decline. Construction companies are folding one after the other as the government doesn’t pay them for projects,” says De Kock.
“It is also noticeable how the homeless are multiplying. There is just no more money or work in the city.”
Regarding the sewage flowing into the streets, De Kock says the city’s sewage system is collapsing due to a lack of maintenance. In the entire Mangaung metro, there is also not one sewage treatment plant that works.
“Sewage enters at one end of the plant and runs into the creeks (Bloem and Renosterspruit) and rivers at the other end. Residents in the north of the city can be guaranteed that their drinking water is contaminated with sewage.”
With the garbage problem that has actually been in the city for years, residents sometimes use private garbage removal services or haul their garbage away themselves.
“However, it is a risk to drive garbage away yourself because it is extremely dangerous and inaccessible at the garbage sites. Bloemfontein is also an old, elderly community, and it is outrageous to expect the elderly to dump their rubbish in the grounds themselves.”
With the garbage that is not driven away, it is then dumped in parks, creeks, cemeteries or even outside the landfill.
According to De Kock, the city’s infrastructure cannot cope with load shedding either and as a result there is a neighborhood without power every day due to equipment that has broken down.
‘Not a long-term solution’
Adriaan de Bruyn, FF Plus MP, says that although residents have no other choice than to roll up their sleeves and do the “work of the municipality”, this is not a long-term solution to the problem.
“The long-term solution is to turn the politicians and the municipality so that residents can get the service they pay for,” says De Bruyn.
There were rumors last week that the ANC Wednesday would boycott the council meeting during which a new executive mayor and chief whip for the Mangaung metro would be elected.
Striking municipal workers then disrupted the meeting by blocking the entrance to the building and thus keeping councilors out. The meeting then could not go ahead and was rescheduled for Friday at 2:00 p.m.
This is apparently out of fear that the ANC will have to cede the mayoral post to the opposition because the ANC candidate is not guaranteed this position. The opposition parties need a few votes to get their mayoral candidate, Pappie Mokoena of the Afrikan Alliance of Social Democrats (AASD), approved.
Eight of the ruling party’s council members have been expelled from the council since the election of the DA speaker, Maryke Davies, because they apparently voted with the opposition for the speaker.
“The ANC would rather make the municipality uncontrollable than lose its power. The residents suffer at the end of the day with the service delivery deteriorating.”
If the ANC loses its mayor, it also loses all its mayoral committees, explains De Bruyn.
“The ANC is on the verge of losing its majority in the council. And if he loses Mangaung, he loses the province, which will be a big blow to the party at the national level. The ANC cannot afford to lose the Free State, which is the crux of the party’s finances.”
Financial and service delivery failures in Mangaung have been looming since 2016, with the metro being placed under national administration last year.
According to De Bruyn, despite the national intervention, a financial recovery plan is still not ready. This follows after the metro previously failed for more than two years to implement such a plan during provincial intervention.
“If national intervention is not going to bear fruit, the only option is to dissolve the council and elect a new council.”
With the ANC having already lost support in the council and with the opposition having the upper hand in the position of speaker and (possibly) mayor, the FF Plus is hopeful that the picture “doesn’t look too dark” for Mangaung going forward.
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