By NYX MCLEAN
I have been back in town for a year now after ten years away. I always found the short trips home upsetting, seeing my home town slowly fall apart over the years away. It wasn’t only in the water or the potholes. It was also in the energy of the space; it looked sad, grass taking over roads, litter being thrown from car windows, people who needed work without work when there is plenty to be done in this town.
I have kept quiet about my feelings about Makhanda for the most part. It could be because the issues feel relentless and because I am overwhelmed by them and overwhelmed about how to shift things, who to speak to about this, who to contact to report issues, and then trust that they will respond and action change.
But I also didn’t want to seem to be complaining about a difficult situation that we all find ourselves in. But is it complaining, or is it asking the right questions? If we are too scared to ask the questions, things continue as they are. We fail to hold those responsible accountable.
That is how power persists through the silence and unquestioning allowance of poor behaviour. Too often, we are perceived to be “anti” whoever is in power when we question them. But I believe in integrity and holding ourselves accountable. If I did something wrong and my family, friends or colleagues called this to my attention, I would see it as something done out of respect for who I am and who they perceive me to be.
People don’t call out bad behaviour to cause harm; they do so to prevent further harm and to show that they respect us enough to expect more from us. Because at some point, we were this version of ourselves.
I believe we may be viewing our public servants, such as those who hold office at the municipality, as removed from our concept of our community. I know I am guilty of this; I speak of the municipality as separate from the community, as an entity currently harming our town and its people.
This is what the current and ongoing situation is; harm. A failure to ensure infrastructure is maintained, to ensure that roads are tarred (and maintained) beyond the centre of town, to ensure that all households have water and electricity, and refuse collection, to ensure that the stormwater drainage systems are clear. The failure to do so is harmful or has the potential for harm.
This is not acceptable.
It is also unacceptable to view the municipality as outside of our community. It is a structure within our community that is failing, and we owe it to our collective community health to intervene. We would not watch a family member, a friend, or a colleague collapse without doing anything.
I have also heard that many who have worked at the municipality or on council do not live in Makhanda – even a mayor at some stage. This is then to say that they do not live within our community and are mostly removed from the day-to-day issues that we all face to varying degrees.
If one is to work for the community, I would hope to form part of the community. What calls each person who works in the municipal office to their roles?
Surely this work, serving the community or even being a custodian of the community, has to be a calling. Call me old fashioned, but I believe in the sense of purpose in the work we do. Yes, I acknowledge that not everyone has the luxury of choosing fulfilling work. But there is something to be said about taking a role as a public servant and failing to serve the community you are in. It should not be this way. How are public officers connecting with their roles – do they know the community they work for and are they part of this community?
It is time we start to see and treat those who are primarily responsible for what is happening to our town and all of us as members of our community. We need to stop seeing them as a faceless collective called “THE MUNICIPALITY”.
We need to imagine an intervention, as we would for a family member, friend or colleague who is in distress or has been in a downward spiral of failure. We need to imagine ways to have a conversation with these community members; we need them to imagine ways of speaking with us beyond the fuss and pomp of politics. We need to meet on level ground, be honest about how this community has been failed, and find a way forward to repair and renew this town.
I would like to see public servants doing what some councillors have done, forming community groups to raise concerns, report issues and faults, and converse with the people they are employed to work for and with.
We need our public servants to remember the purpose of their roles within our community and to begin acting as if they are a part of our community.