Yesterday was only the second time that I have driven right the way through the Eastern Cape along the N2, which, implicitly, was my second trip through the Transkei. On the previous occasion I made this trip I was astounded at how the two main cities there, Butterworth and Mthatha (you may know it as bastardised colonial spelling of Umtata), were dirty, disgusting and had poverty etched on every building. Throughout this beautiful countryside, these two cities were eyesores; like specks of dirt on a plain white curtain.
Yesterday, though, prepared to go through these derelict destinations, I was pleasantly surprised to see how clean, brightly-coloured and functioning Butterworth was. The roads were in great nick, the shops all seemed to be buzzing, police were present every few hundred metres, there was no litter – Butterworth deserves some plaudits for the successful changes that have been made there. And because of this I was excited to see what changes had been made to the Transkei’s real metropolitan centre: Mthatha.
And was I disappointed? That would be this year’s ill-fitting understatement. I have driven 4x4s up mountains with easier manoeuvrability than the roads in Mthatha – ridiculous when one considers that the N2 going in and out of the city is in fantastic nick. There is more paint on my window-sill than the entire walled surface of the Transkei capital, and more rubbish lining the streets than Julius Malema can talk in a lifetime. Although there is a buzz present, I wasn’t really able to pick up on what it was as I was distracted by burnt-out buildings, abandoned shops and a melee of people scattered everywhere. This drew my attention away from the four traffic lights at the intersection which unfortunately requires a serious amount of attention to decipher what one should do upon arrival – the only bulb working was one of the red ones, when this disappeared, the implication is that it was green.
I find it barmy that money is being spent in the Eastern Cape, like in Butterworth, and I drove through roadworks aplenty from PE all the way to the Kwa-Zulu/Natal border, but somehow none of it has made it to a city where so many people live. And, within 100m of leaving Mthatha, the road becomes double-lane, has fresh paint, newly-laid speed bumps and so on.
It is a city that South Africa has forgotten.
Shame on those in charge.