By KATHRYN CLEARY, SUE MACLENNAN and STEPHEN KISBEY-GREEN
The President is coming to town: the roads are being fixed, the grass cut, walls re-built and rubbish picked clean from the sides of streets. Is Makhanda (Grahamstown) ready for the President? Perhaps a better question might be, is the President ready for Makhanda?
PREPARING FOR THE PRESIDENT
How to turn a broken sports field into a VIP venue in three days
As Makhanda prepared to welcome President Cyril Ramaphosa for tomorrow’s national Freedom Day celebration, our reporters tracked the progress of preparations this week. Despite the rain, wind and chilly weather at the start of the week, Miki Yili Stadium in Extension 6 has been transformed from a neglected pasture for livestock, to a clean, white-tented VIP venue, fit for the country’s highest leader and 15 000 eager guests.
On Tuesday, huge logistics trucks with Cape Town plates roll in through the clouds and offload tarps, metal beams and foundation that will soon create the grand space. A source at the site tells our reporters that the although the rain isn’t helping with the set-up, progress is being made. Reportedly the logistics company was not hired by Makana, but through the Presidency. The source is also unaware of the sewage running just outside the stadium’s walls, nor what might be done to fix the issue.
Without overstaying our welcome in the waterlogged stadium, our reporters leave the source to tend to a bakkie stuck deep in the mud.
Security follows that night. SAPS Spokesperson Captain Mali Govender tells Grocott’s Mail that plans are in place to ensure the safety of the community and the President during the event, but obviously for security reasons provides no more detail than that.
WATCH:IMG_0686 Desolate stadiumIMG_0684 Unpacking trucksIMG_0683 Stuck in Mud
Much progress. A construction team is rebuilding the east entrance wall around the main gate. Treasure-chest crates of nuts and bolts, fire extinguishers, tension wires and straps are offloaded and opened on the field. Hundreds of struts and supports for the metal framework for the main marquee are laid in place and crews are hard at work bolting and screwing them together. The south-end arch for the marquee has been erected. The framework, now laid out on the ground, measures 120 paces long and 60 paces wide.
Outside the stadium a TLB is digging out the stormwater ditch that permanently flows with sewage. Community Work Project (CWP) workers in orange overalls collect rubbish in dozens and dozens of black plastic bags which a Makana bakkie is collecting. Other workers are using grasscutters to trim the verges outside the stadium and opposite the Indoor Sports Centre.
Amatola Water is driving back and forth across the field in their bakkie, installing taps at strategic points.
The Air Force jets do a couple of practice fly-overs.
The change rooms and clubhouse are badly vandalised, with the toilets unuseable. Caretaker Dalindyebo Zani speaks to Grocott’s Mail about how he fears for his safety as groups of youths take over the area for hours at a time. He says the security provided for the facility is inadequate, and the police are slow to come when he reports activity in the area. A Makana official tells Grocott’s Mail that there was a hope the changerooms would be cleaned and fixed before Saturday – but that’s clearly an impossible task given the degree of damage.
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This afternoon our reporters have to find a more conventional way into the stadium, instead of stepping through the hole in the wall, now rebuilt. Making our way past a few Audis, a BMW or two and a handful of municipal cars, what we find inside the stadium today is a different picture.
The Sarah Baartman Disaster Management and the Office of the President are busy assessing the venue for the safety and security. White tents towered over the now dry, lush green grass below, and workers continued hustling to finish building the magnificent structure. The stadium’s walls are all nearly rebuilt, and the sewage-filled trench just on the other side is looking slightly better than before with its new ‘grasscut’. The smell however, indicates it is still full of sewage.
At some point during the day, we learn later, Minister of Water and Sanitation Gugile Nkwinti, with Eastern Cape head of the Department of Water and Sanitation Portia Makhanya, visit Extension 6 to see what needs to be done about the sewage leaks spouting out everywhere – doubled in volume because of this week’s welcome rain.
The road leading into the stadium is undergoing a facelift, as workers quickly dig, scoop and fill potholes with black gravel.
After an awkward run-in with (we think) State Security, our reporters creep back to the office.
The Air Force again does several fly-overs.
Makana is approached for comment earlier in the week on how they are preparing for the President, but hadn’t responded by the time of publication.
The Grocott’s Mail team will be live on social media during tomorrow’s event: follow us on Twitter: @Grocotts
‘I pray that it will rain’
Our team spoke to other community members about their thoughts on Ramaphosa’s visit and the Freedom Day celebrations. Though it’s clear that some residents are excited for the event, others remain skeptical that it will make any difference in Makhanda.
Dustin Davies is a community activist who lives in Sun City informal settlement – arguably one of the most neglected parts of Makhanda.
“I, for one, pray that it will rain so that the numbers won’t be that big,” said Davies. “You look at the schedule that’s been planned for him – he’s not coming into the informal settlements where he could see for his own eyes the environment the poor have to live in – yet [they]expect us to vote for them.”
“On Cyril Ramaphosa’s visits to Makhanda, I wish he [could]include a clean-up strategy for the municipality that’s worse off than ever in its history because of corrupt officials, fraud, mismanagement, poor supervision and the abuse of municipal transport and greediness.”
Deon Hilpert, an official from the South Eastern District Rugby Union (SEDRU) that organised last weekend’s thrilling rugby tournament marking the Lily Whites’ 125th anniversary, added that “change and standard of living should not depend on a vote, or the visit of the President”.
Other organisations, though critical of the event, saw positives, both in historical significance and potential economic gain.
“I suspect everything will be made ready for what he is supposed to see – streets without potholes, trash cleared and so on,” said Philip Machanick, Chairperson of the Grahamstown Resident’s Association (GRA). “This is no surprise visit where he will sneak up on anything dysfunctional.”
Richard Gaybba, Chairperson of the Grahamstown Business Forum (GBF) said, “The President isn’t coming to deal with any of Grahamstown’s issues, he’s here for the Freedom Day celebrations. I do know that there will be some discussion and that he wants to be briefed on the water crisis. But it’s really just a national event that happens to be in Grahamstown.”
“It’s not the first time that we’ve seen him here just before a general election”, said Gaybba.
Machanick agreed that the event was a political move.
“However, there must also be some symbolism involved because the local electorate is too small to matter to a national campaign,” he added. “We are the site of so much history – frontier wars, Biko’s decision to split with NUSAS, Biko’s final arrest, a long tradition of community activism.
“I am more inclined to ask if the President is ready for us: a community that does not take failure as given, that calls government into question and that demands accountability,” said Machanick.
Machanick believed that the event would bring short-term gain for the area, depending on the number of visitors. With 15 000 people expected at the event, many from out of town, local businesses are hard-pressed to find a better opportunity.
The South African National Civic Organisation (Sanco) was approached for comment on how the event would affect the town, but did not provide a response at the time of publication.
By Wednesday, there was no sign of a massive influx of visitors, however, with the 55-member Grahamstown Hospitality Guild’s bookings no more than normal.
“We’ve had some interest in bookings for Festival and K-Day in June and July – but very little else,” said chairperson Mike Bandey. “Perhaps they’ll make last-minute bookings.”
The Kwam eMakana township homestay has 20 members, who charge an average of R490 a night and between them have an estimated 124 beds.
“We haven’t had bookings yet,” chairperson Buyiswa Dywili said on Wednesday. “But the Mayor’s Office did request our database, so perhaps some bookings will come.”
Stone Crescent Hotel, likewise, had received no group bookings by midweek.
Grocott’s Mail understands that the usual VIP venues, including the Graham Hotel and the Cock House, are fully booked.
Not our party
Asked whether they would have a role in the Freedom Day programme, all of the parties who responded said no. Spokesperson for the K.K. Chule Papiyane District of Alliance partners the SACP, Bongani Hanisen said, “This is a government programme [ie not a party based programme]so the SACP will not have a role.”
COPE spokesperson Glacier Nkwashu said party representatives hadn’t been invited.
The DA said they would hold their own rally.
National Spokesperson Solly Malatsi told Grocott’s Mail, “As we have done in the past, we will host a commemorative Freedom Day event in Gauteng, which will be headlined by the Federal Leader. National Government events have become nothing more than self-congratulatory ANC rallies, rather than a moment of reflection and celebration for all South Africans.”
Meanwhile the organisers of a petition that 22 000 Makhanda residents signed late last year calling for the Makana Council to be dissolved have organised a protest at Soccer City in Raglan Road at 11am. On a poster circulated via social media, they say, “Makhanda people are crying for freedom! Demand good governance!…Let’s meet our President.”
Grocott’s Mail wasn’t able to confirm whether the group would be marching up to Miki Yili Stadium, or would request him to come to them.