By NYX MCLEAN
I have a suspicion that we, as citizens of Makhanda, are in a bit of a going-nowhere relationship with the municipality. On a good day, we’re being gaslit into believing that our concerns are not so severe, and on most (bad) days, we are being outright ghosted.
On Thursday morning, a video came through one of the WhatsApp groups that Grocott’s participates in. A massive crack had appeared down Bathurst Street outside of Connock’s Butchery, and the water – water some have not had in their taps for weeks – was making a great escape to a wasteful nowhere.
This shouldn’t be happening. Our infrastructure should not be in this state where it is crumbling and collapsing. And where is the municipality in all of this? Are we going to receive yet another water update with ‘humble apologies’ and ‘thank you for your patience’, and as Thursday’s one asks that we ‘all do our part’. But, please do tell us: is the municipality doing its part?
The community’s frustration is palpable; this is no longer a minor inconvenience. This is a complete disregard for human life.
We try our best to continue in good faith; we keep paying our rates, participate in community conversations, and give the municipality breathing room to get the work done. But nothing genuinely tangible is manifesting.
I often wonder if I am making a big deal out of nothing.
But, there is often no water in the taps, shoddy or non-existent maintenance, potholes that continue to multiply. There is an almost complete lack of municipal workers except for those who drive down my street herding cattle in a municipal bakkie. Are those municipal cattle? I digress.
But this wondering if I am making a big deal out of nothing is a dismissal of my own experience. And that is gaslight thinking.
The definition of gaslighting (thank you, Merriam-Webster) is the “psychological manipulation of a person”, or in our case, a community, “over an extended period” leading the person or community “to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator.”
Maybe it is a bit of stretch, but what else can this be?
How do we explain our inability as a community to say “enough” and to organise ourselves to resist further abuse? We have become dependent on the municipality; we wait for them to do the work they continue to assure us they will do. But nothing comes of it. They speak empty words that say too much about their disregard for all of us.
Look, I am aware that this is a full-on rant. But if I keep quiet, I am complicit in this ongoing and rather awful relationship we all have with the municipality. If the muni were a person, a partner, I would have kicked them out years ago. Nobody deserves to be treated the way we all are being treated.
Many of us show up for this relationship – 53% of us pay our rates and taxes – even though we are unsure where they are going. Others go beyond this and organise street clean-ups or support clean-up initiatives by sponsoring skips and bakkies to carry away waste.
But our other half is missing. In fact, on most days, I think the municipality has ghosted us. Ghosting is “the act or practice of abruptly cutting off all contact with someone…usually without explanation by no longer accepting or responding to phone calls”. That does sound familiar, doesn’t it?
When last was a call to a municipal number answered? Friday’s scheduled Council meeting has been postponed. It is nearly impossible to get an appointment with some senior municipal officials because they take care of political party business.
Many of us are trying to fix things, and the other half in our relationship is off schmoozing someone else. Yes, there are political party responsibilities, but right now, our community is in distress, and we need all our community members to set aside party politics for community politics. One which centres on the needs of all and sets about ensuring we all live in a healthy and safe environment.
A few months ago, I wrote an editorial on how we needed public servants to remember that they are part of this community and not separate from us. I also said that we would stage an intervention if we saw a family or community member acting out. It is time for that intervention. It is time we called a family meeting.