Malamulele: When an Unresponsive State is Let off the Hook

A protest in Malamulele, Limpopo, led to a complete shut-down of the community. Protestors are demanding to be separated from the Thulamela municipality, based about 50km from their villages.

But this however is not a new issue, the demand has been made for over a decade now and over time there have been protests about the same issue and in September 2013 over 10 000 residents took part in another protest which led to looting and the destruction of property.

Following this, the Municipal Demarcation Board announced that there would be no separation of municipalities.

As part of the ANC’s election campaign, in April 2014 President Jacob Zuma visited the area leading to residents telling him their grievances. Zuma reportedly said “This matter has never presented to the president of the country. I will find out why the matter was delayed so much…” Further adding that, “it is important that we conclude the matter within a reasonable time. Since the matter is been presented to the president I am now going to take an interest to look at the matter firstly on the facts and the time it must take before it can be concluded”. According to members of the community, they have not heard back from the President since.

During the unrest in the community, there was a misplaced emphasis on alleged tribalism as a result of the municipality being located in neighbouring Thohoyandou, the capital city of the former Venda homeland and the residents of Malamulele are predominantly Xitsonga.

This overemphasis led to the complete wipe out of the Census 2011 results, which found that:

  • Only 15,2% of the population in the municipality have access to piped water within their dwelling;
  • 10,7% of the residents have toilets connected to the sewerage and
  • Only 12,5% of the population have their refuse removed once a week

These findings clearly show that there are serious service delivery problems in the municipality, a category B municipality serving as the most local tier of local government and servicing a population of over 600 000. Also notable is that while the majority of the population are working age, the unemployment figure in the municipality is much higher than the national average standing at 43%.

During the current unrest in the community, schools were shut-down of schools as a means of leverage by protestors. The school shut-down was widely condemned by a number of officials and bodies, citing the school children’s ‘right to education’.

What went without condemnation however was the unresponsiveness of the state, which led to the use of schools as leverage in the first place.  

A 2011 report, titled ‘The smoke that calls: Insurgent citizenship, collective violence and the struggle for a place in the new South Africa’, records a community protestor saying that it was “the smoke [the protests] that calls them [the state]”.

Similarly a report by the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI), titled ‘An Anatomy of Dissent and Repression: The Criminal Justice System and the 2011 Thembelihle Protest’, affirms this as it underscores the fact that communities often have long histories of failed attempts at engaging with different levels of the state. And it is generally after many failed attempts that communities turn to protests.

The same pattern was also visible in Bekkersdal, among many other communities, where the state only started addressing community issues after prolonged collective action by residents. So the state should in fact take full responsibility for continuously reinforcing protest and the use of schools as leverage- along with other tactics - as the only means through which communities get responses to their demands.

The attempts to reduce the demand for a municipality to issues of tribalism should guarded against, along with the tendency of depicting residents as irrational people for using the leverage which did eventually get some reaction from officials.

On Friday the community was informed that the Municipal Demarcation Board feasibility study had found that it would not be possible for them to get their own municipality, yet so far there does not seem to be a plan in place to ensure that there is any kind of intervention to improve service delivery at the existing municipality.
- Koketso Moeti is the national coordinator of Local Government Action, a loose alliance of organisations working to promote democracy, accountability and delivery at local government level. For more information follow Local Government Action on Twitter and Facebook or visit

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