Ficksburg, a socio-economic liability to the Republic

By: Selloane Lephoi

On 24th April Minister of Finance presented government’s R500 billion package to counter the effects of Covid 19 on South Africa’s economy. As he was outlining his solutions, I couldn’t help but notice how that address wasn’t meant for Ficksburg. Not all local economies in South Africa are born equal.

Let’s ask ourselves the following basic questions about our environment:

  • Who owns commercial (industry, retail and services) property?
  • Who trades from these property? Occupants generate income from selling products and services.
  • What kind of products and services are offered by the tenants?
  • Who is employed by these tenants?

This is Ficksburg’s economy in a nutshell. What we call our central business district (CBD) in Ficksburg forms a quadrant made up of McCabe, Piet Retief, Kestell, Kerk, Voortrekker, Fontein and Erwee Streets. I am going to confine my discussion here to this area only.

Who owns commercial property in Ficksburg? In 1990, it was 100% owned by white South Africans.  During the past 26 years policies and programs have been developed in the name of racial equality when it comes to land and property ownership. One that is worth mentioning in this instance is the Property Incubator Program introduced about 12 years ago. Today only just about 10 to 20% is still in the hands of white South Africans. Is it mission accomplished? It is odd that black South Africans still own 0% of that space. What happened to the bulk of our trading space?

There are strictly two distinct categories of individuals who are beneficiaries of economic activity in Ficksburg namely, ANC cronies and foreigners. Let us be clear on definition of terms here. If you bought your ID from a Home Affairs official for R2000 or so, or provided any other favour for that matter, you are not a South African. Even if you carry an ID, you are still not a South African. There is a long list of what makes one a national of the Republic including birth, marriage and naturalisation. Fraud is not one of them. ANC rubble rousers who are kept on a leash using government property deserve their own dedicated article. I will not discuss them here.

In 1991, tragedy struck in our neighbouring country. Manthabiseng Senatsi, a Mosotho woman was brutally murdered in an Asian shop in Maseru and Basotho declared war on all Asians in the capital city. The incident was the final straw that broke the camel’s back after decades of ill treatment of Basotho by the foreigners. Many fled to South Africa as refugees and have since partially settled here with one foot still in Lesotho, if that makes sense. Commercial property in Ficksburg CBD is currently owned by Asians from Lesotho and controlled from Maseru. 90% of Ficksburg population, Africans, own 0% of commercial property. We can therefore conclude that this 90% does not get their income from collecting rent.

Who trades from this space? Buildings that once housed well-known South African chain stores have been split into what resembles chicken runs (one building has been turned into 12 units) without approval from a Town Planner and all with illegally connected electricity and water. Tenants are from Asia and the rest of the African continent. Yet again, the 90% have missed an opportunity to trade in Ficksburg’s CBD.

What exactly is sold in these premises? Illegally dumped household products and clothing, as well as foodstuffs that do not meet minimum health standards in general. Let’s not omit brothels, 419 scams, human and drug trafficking “branches” posing as clothing stores, barbershops and hair salons or even guesthouses. The 90% of Ficksburg population does not produce for these outlets.

Who is employed by these businesses? Anyone and everyone who is not South African, is in the country illegally and cannot take their employer to the Labour Department for the average for being enslaved. 46,7% of youth in Setsoto Local Municipality is unemployed.

If we are not property owners, active entrepreneurs or employees, where do black South Africans in Ficksburg get their income from? Social grants. With all the resources this town has to offer, we are at the bottom of the income barrel. We have not made a contribution to our government’s kitty through taxes which is why in its eyes we are a liability. Are we surprised that at the start of this lockdown, refugees were handing out food parcels to us, South Africans? Have we lost our minds?  

From the R500 billion relief fund announced by the Finance Minister, we already know that we fit into the R350 per person category. The bulk of Ficksburg businesses cannot claim a cent from this package because neither the business owners nor their employees have ID numbers, nor do they have bank accounts or comply with any item on the list of prerequisites for assistance.

This poverty model is by design. It has its architect, foundation, pillars and all the support it needs to keep going. We’re going to get to the bottom of this. In the meantime, wear you mask, wash your hands, keep your distance and drink hot lemon water first thing in the morning.

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