Ga-Mankele - The lives of people in Mankele, Limpopo, have changed for the better since the completion of a much-needed bridge which has created a vital link between the villagers and the outside world.
The R87 million bridge, which was officially unveiled by Premier Cassel Mathale in April, has modernised travelling for the people of Mankele.
For many years, the deep rural village in the mountainous area of Greater Tubatse Municipality was cut off from the neighbouring villages of Mamogolo and Penge, and rest of the world by the notorious overflowing Lepelle (formerly Olifants) River, which winds down to the Kruger Park, Mozambique and eventually into the Indian Ocean.
Residents now no longer have to risk life and limb to cross the river in the unsafe makeshift cable car - called a 'segwaigwai' by villagers - thanks to a commitment made by Mathale during a visit to the Sekhukhune district last year.
Speaking to BuaNews at his kraal, village headman Solly Maphoru said: "The construction of this modern bridge that linked us to the rest of the world makes us feel free, just like when this country was liberated when Mandela was released from prison.
"Before the construction of this bridge, life was very tough... people used to get the lifeless bodies of their loved ones to the mortuary and back to the village through segwaigwai."
According to Maphoru, even pregnant women who needed to be rushed to the nearest clinic in Penge - about 20km away - were ferried on the hazardous segwaigwai to cross the river.
Maphoru said the bodies of two people who drowned after they fell from segwaigwai while crossing the river have not yet been found.
The headman's younger brother and one of the drivers of the segwaigwai, Herbert Maphoru, said: "Driving the segwaigwai was a risk and there was nothing [I could do] but help my fellow villagers cross the river. I used to carry three people per trip and if they had luggage, I would first load their goods, then go back to fetch them."
He said villagers would be charged R3 per trip. Hebert said even the building material used for the local secondary school, Segashife, and one block of Mankele primary were transported on segwaigwai, which was later taken to the building site on a donkey cart.
"We've loaded everything on the segwaigwai, including beds, kitchen units, coffins, groceries, bricks and roofing materials. Even though we have a modern bridge, I will never forget those difficult days," he said.
Senior citizen Josephinah Mogoge, whom BuaNews met at the bridge, said: "We are grateful about what our provincial government has done for our village. Throughout these years, we thought we were forgotten by our government, but we were wrong.
"Since the construction of the new bridge, taxis and buses are now available at our village and we've all agreed as villagers that we will not tolerate any form of damage to this bridge as nobody wants to use segwaigwai again," she said.
Greater Tubatse municipal mayor, Josiah Mahlake, said the construction of the bridge and a 12km road at Mankele clearly showed government's commitment to take services to all areas where people live.
"Service delivery must be enjoyed by all voters irrespective of where they live, whether there are few at the settlements or not. As government, we are glad that the people of Mankele are enjoying the usage of the bridge to access other areas."
According to the mayor, Mankele village, with 74 households and with no cellphone network coverage, will be electrified soon.
"We are in the tendering process now. The village will be electrified very soon, and those responsible for the network coverage have already surveyed the area," he said.
Greater Tubatse Municipality is the fastest growing in the province due to the booming platinum mining sector. - BuaNews