From lamb labelling to lagging investment, the fight for SA’s oldest municipality is heating up.
“…People build big businesses, get great tenders and then they move out and leave nothing in the community.”
Beaufort West – The ANC’s Central Karoo constituency office in Beaufort West is a hive of activity as it makes its final push in what is expected to be a tight contest in the August 3 municipal elections.
Regional secretary Windy Plaatjies and area election co-ordinator Ayanda Bans look tired as they sit in the lounge of the offices, decorated in African National Congress colours, complete with a silk floral centrepiece in the party’s colours of yellow, green and black.
“The campaign is going very well,” said Bans, who has been working to ensure that the party retains its majority in Beaufort West after its 50.8% nail-biter in the 2011 elections.
It was the only municipality the ANC won with an outright majority in the Western Cape, with the Democratic Alliance coming in with 41.2%.
Congress of the People (Cope) got 1.8%, the Independent Civic Organisation of SA (Icosa) got 4.3%, the Independent Congress got 0.26% and the National People’s Party 1.21% and the SA Progressive Civic Organisation got 0.28%, so it has been a battle of the giants in the past.
This time, Cope, the ANC, Icosa, the Economic Freedom Fighters, the Karoo Democratic Force (KDF), Pan Africanist Congress, Freedom Front Plus, DA, SA Religious Civic Organisation and an independent candidate Ralph Esterhuizen will contest the election.
Most of Beaufort West’s national news tends to focus on maverick Mayor Truman Prince, as he lurches from one scandal to another, but it is also the seat of the Central Karoo District Municipality which has the pretty town of Matjiesfontein under its umbrella.
Oldest municipality in South Africa
Other towns in the municipal district are: Beaufort West, Klaarstroom, Laingsburg, Leeu Gamka, Merweville, Murraysburg, Nelspoort, Prince Albert and Welgemoed.
Beaufort West is the oldest municipality in South Africa with a population of 51 080, according to the 2016 Community Survey. Laingsburg, which was devastated in a flood in 1981, is the smallest, according to Statistics SA, which put its population at 8 299 in 2011.
The DA has upped its campaign in Beaufort West with visits from high ranking party officials, including Helen Zille. Provincial leader Patricia De Lille hails from the town.
Outside, a DA election bus cruises through town. Its supporters hang out of windows, shouting party slogans, hoping to get the vote of the 26 027 registered there.
Apart from having to handle fallout from Prince, the ANC also has to contend with the emergence of the EFF, which launched its area command in 2013, and is contesting a municipal election for the first time.
There is little bluster with Plaatjies and Bans, just earnest talk and concern over the desperate need for investment in the town, and the region.
Plaatjies, an economic development practitioner, appears to have recovered after being shot last November when trying to break up a tavern brawl over a woman.
‘They pay the salaries and they go’
He is concerned that the town seems to be treated as no more than a pit stop by the thousands who hurtle through it on their way to Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth or Cape Town – or a place to harvest money and take it away.
He said many of the businesses are owned by out-of-towners who take their profits with them, instead of ploughing some back into the town.
“They pay the salaries and they go,” he said.
“The owner of BP lives in Stellenbosch, and the owner of Total lives in Durban. The mall owners are in Bloemfontein,” explained Plaatjies.
Much of the local economy is driven by grants, but then this money is taken out of the community by businesses, he continued.
The town also does not feel a sense of ownership of the “Karoo Lamb” label, because external regulations control who can decide whether a product receives the coveted label.
These government regulations stipulate how long the animal must have lived in the region, among other qualifying points.
But the town has made significant progress with many of the social indicators, such as housing. This is evident in the sparcity of shacks, he said proudly, adding that it was also the first municipality to give free water and electricity to indigent residents.
‘People love us actually’
The 2016/17 draft municipal review lists screeds of municipal maintenance work and construction, provision of water and electricity, and keeping the sports fields up to standard, but says it can do no more without increased investment because of the limited pool of municipal revenue available from residents.
The ANC in the town was also is also without the candidate list disputes that dogged the party in other municipalities. This played out in a rerun of the selection of branch leadership, and a breakaway by a group of disgruntled ANC supporters to form the KDF.
Asked whether Prince’s letter calling on construction companies to donate to the ANC’s election war chest might hurt the party’s campaign, he argued that there was context to the letter.
“He should not have written the letter, but the cry was for the business people to leave some benefits and gains.
“It’s a controversial letter, but people build big businesses, get great tenders and then they move out and leave nothing in the community. He shouldn’t have written it on a council letterhead.”
Although the DA wanted Prince fired, he dodged the bullet when the ANC’s disciplinary committee of the Central Karoo region fined him R10 000 for bringing the party into disrepute.
“People love us actually, but we are also not going to be taking them for granted,” said Plaatjies.