On the 28 of June 1983, the people of Grahamstown heard the news of the impending ‘Independence’ of new black township council. The headlines in the Grocott’s Mail on that day read, ‘A “Homeland” Called iRhini’. The article reported on the decision made by the Eastern Cape Administration Board in terms of the Black Local Authorities Act. Grahamstown was to have one of the first four autonomous black
Municipalities in the Eastern Cape along with Port Elizabeth, Uitenhage and Cradock. According to this Act, the black townships would have their own municipality, operating separately from the City of Grahamstown.
Even though this was not a new idea, the people were surprised. The idea had first arisen in 1970 when about 500 men from Fingo Village marched to town to voice their grievances against high rates and the possible relocation which was impending then under the Group Areas Act. When seeking a peaceful solution, the Grahamstown City Council appointed a commission, which suggested placing the townships under separate administration.
The question on everyone’s mind was what did this change meant to them? One group who was vocal in their disapproval was the newly formed Grahamstown Civic Association (GRACA). It claimed that the new council was a ‘dummy’ body created by the Apartheid government and so laid plans to boycott the upcoming elections. Government supporters argued that the new municipality would give more power for black township politicians and allow black people to run their affairs. Mr. D.J Mathee, the Acting Director of Administration for the Eastern Cape Administration Board (ECAB) tried to clarify some of the confusion around the new council. According to him, Grahamstown was chosen for autonomy because of its proven ability to maintain and manage its own affairs. The powers of the new council were still to be announced. But it was certain that the new council would be able to seek loans on the open market like other local authorities and appoint its own Town Clerk and other staff.
The first elections for this new black Municipality were scheduled for the 1st of December 1983 with 18 000 registered voters expected to participate. During those times only black ratepayers were allowed to vote. Only three out of the nine affected wards were contested and the other six were uncontested, meaning six community councillors would enter the new Council without being voted for.
On the day of election only 250 people turned up to vote. It looked like the GRACA achieved its goal to boycott the elections. Mr Billy Ndwebisa, the Chairman of GRACA, said the people were fed up with the ever-increasing rates and the fact that the people did not have confidence in the new Rhini Town Council. This caused them to show no support the elections. GRACA said that the Rhini Town Council had no authority over the township people as they were only elected by 4.6% of the township people. It advocated for the newly elected councillors to resign in favour of forming onecity council where all the races would be represented equally rather than the separately.
Six Councillors were elected unopposed, they were, Mr G. Nduna, Mr. B.B. Zondani, Rev. A.B. Gaqa, Mr. R.K. Tinta, Mr. S.E Qangule, and Mrs E.H. Ngcangca. In the contested wards Mr. T.F. Mvula won ward 1 by 51 votes against Mr. W.B. Lubelwana. In ward 2 Mr Botha won by 20 to 13 votes for Mr Maseti and in ward 8, CollyDraai won by a convincing 79 votes against 13 for Jackson Jadi. The mayor was elected by the council on their first meeting.
Zondani is the Mayor
B.B. Zondani was elected the first mayor of the Rhini Town Council with Rev. Gaqa as Deputy Mayor. The term of the mayor was for two years as was the case with the Grahamstown mayor. Zondani was the mayor from 1983 to 1985. His term was tainted by controversy and death threats. The first thing he had to do in the office was to defend the existence of theRhini Town Council. GRACA organised a public debate with the Rhini Town Council, but the Council cancelled the booking for the hall that was going to be used, making it unavailable for the debate. Zondani and the Rhini Council refused to engage in any sort of debate with GRACA, saying that it was an insult to the Council to have its integrity challenged, as it had legal jurisdiction.
GRACA wanted to debate on the legitimacy of the new Rhini Council. According to GRACA, the new Council had no legitimacy in running the township’s affairs as it was elected bysuch a low poll, indicating the lack of township support. The GRACA secretary claimed that the council actions were a sign of cowardice as the Council had no reason to defend their administration except that they wish to fill up their ‘stomachs’ at the expense of the political and civil liberties of the people.
At one point Zondani had to stay in the Graham Hotel in town when he was confronted by an angry group of students. Zondani retired in 1985, saying, “certain internal wranglings have prevented me from standing again so I decided not to seek nomination as Mayor.”
In the elections in 1985, Mr. CollyDraai became the new Mayor of Rhini and Mr. Botha became the new Deputy Mayor. Draai was Mayor for one year before Mr. Botha became the third Mayor of Rhini in 1986, a year where Zondani was tipped to run for a second term in office. Draai became the first person to be Mayor of Rhini twice when he became Mayor in January 1987 and for the first time a woman, Mrs H.E.
Ngcangca, was elected Deputy Mayor of Rhini. Rev. B.B. Gaqa and Rev. E. Mafani where the following Mayors of Rhini respectively until democracy when for the first time again Grahamstown had one Municipality where all races where represented under the new, free South Africa.
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