The by-election circus rolled into Mayfair on Wednesday. KHADIJA PATEL caught up with the clowns, trapeze artists – and a captive audience.
It was a good day for an election. With enthusiasm for democracy and envy for Americans running high on Wednesday morning, polling stations opened in a by-election in Johannesburg’s Ward 58. Formerly an ANC stronghold, the ward was won by the Democratic Alliance in last year’s local elections, prompting speculation that the country’s minorities, like the predominantly Indian community in this ward, had lost faith and patience in the ANC.
And while the DA did successfully defend the ward, the variety of characters on display outside the polling stations suggested that the real story of this by-election might not have been the tug of war between the ANC and DA for so-called minority wards. The real story may actually be about South Africans clamouring to have their voices heard, to have their say counted, and to ensure democracy works for them.
Biellie Mandoza and the South African Progressive Civic Organisation
At the Jan Hofmeyer polling station in Fietas (yes, the purported birthplace of Die Antwoord), Biellie Mandoza and other members of the South African Progressive Civic Organisation (Sapco), a Khoisan community group, are eager to chat to passers-by.
As they exchange pleasantries, a woman sitting among them volunteers, “I’m not with them. I’m just here to support my daughter – she’s the Cope candidate.”
“But why would she stand for Cope? They are hardly functioning,” I ask, curious.
“Ja, hulle is gevrek,” [Yes, they are dead] she replies.
As the Sapco members chuckle, Mandoza explains what his part is about. “We are aligned with the Khoisan and Griqua nations, the original inhabitants of South Africa. Our people were denied many of our rights. People who came from outside have more say than we have today,” he says.
I point out that this is a local election, so many of the grievances he raises, issues like reassigning the rights to the country’s mineral wealth, cannot be furthered at this level.
“We want our voices to be heard [here] as well,” he replies earnestly.
Simon Mabaso (National Freedom Party)
Mabaso and a small group of NFP activists are not quite sure what their candidate’s vision for the ward is, except that it is better than anything else on offer. “I have a good feeling. I think we are going to do well,” Mabaso, provincial treasurer for the party, says.
Asked if the NFP could replicate its success in Kwazulu Natal in Gauteng, he says the party is enjoying good growth throughout the country that can ensure it becomes more competitive in future elections. “Our party is growing everywhere, not just in Gauteng. In all nine provinces we are growing,” he says.
At the Bophelo Private School polling station in Mayfair, one group of ANC councillors is confident of an ANC victory. “We want [ANC candidate Muhammad] Cajee with us in the council,” Councillor Shezi from Ward Six says. Decked out in ANC-branded clothing, he adds, “He is the type of person who will help us get things done.”
One of the enduring themes from the catfights in this election was the alleged difficulty experienced by DA councillors in ANC-run municipalities. The former councillor of ward 58, Zaytoon Waja from the DA, believed her efforts were impeded by the ANC-led council. ANC councillors, however, believe there is sufficient room to work within the council even if a councillor hails from elsewhere.
“If the [DA councillors] are saying this, it is a pitiful excuse,” Shezi says.
He says his greatest challenge lies in integrating immigrants into the community. “Some people blame foreigners for everything that goes wrong, but we have to try to bring them together with everyone else,” he says.
Another ANC Councillor, Emmanuel Tseleli from Ward 45 in Soweto, believes residents in his community is satisfied with the rate of service delivery. “People know that the ANC has been doing so much,” he says.
At the Crown Reef Primary School polling station, Chief Whip of Council, Prema Naidoo, bristles at a question about the fiscal health of the Johannesburg municipality. “That is a vicious lie spread by the DA,” he says. “We have reserves of R200 million. Yes, our reserves should be at R2 billion, but we reject accusations that the municipality is bankrupt.” He points out that the city’s sizable staff complement has always been paid timeously, but according to him, overspending on construction of the Soccer City stadium for the 2010 World Cup and other “legacy projects” was to blame for the shortfall in the city’s reserves.
If there’s one thing ANC and DA councillors do agree on, it is that communities misunderstand the role of a Councillor and the scope of his or her work. Three DA councillors, two of them from Johannesburg and one from Ekurhuleni, all nodded their agreement.
“I have even been blamed for the snow and hail,” Councillor Darren Bergman from Ward 32 says. Bergman says allegations of obstruction to DA councillors from the ANC-led municipality are not only valid, they are further exacerbated by party politics within a ward. “In ward 58 and ward 32, these are wards that were won from the ANC so you find a lot of people within the ward that are not happy with that.
“So you find a lot of constraints not only with service delivery from the municipality but you also find yourself answerable to residents who do tend to be politically motivated when they raise issues.”
Bergman also believes that the ANC-led municipality impedes the work of DA councillors.
Councillor Annette Deppe from Ward 93, however, refutes suggestions that DA candidates face grave difficulties in an ANC-run municipality. “I don’t think it’s difficult, but it is challenging to find the right officials, to find the people who are doing their jobs and build working relationships with them,” she says.
Beside her, Councillor Steven Kruger from Ward 72 agrees. He says, “In instances where you can build relationships with people in the municipality, it goes well, but in solving problems like billing where it is a systematic issue, it is very difficult.
“A lot of the city officials are not so bad. There are good officials, so you can’t paint them all with the same brush.”
Jerry Tsholanang Lekuba
Lekuba and five other men are sprawled on the grass outside the Jan Hofmeyer Community Centre in Fietas. A few feet away, beneath a blue DA-branded tent, a small group of people keeps vigil over a large pot of food cooking on a fire. This is no small pot; it’s a “degh” – the cauldron type of cookware used by the Indian community to produce large quantities of food. But instead of feeding a wedding, this pot fed the DA team campaigning in the ward on Wednesday. Lekuba and his friends have assisted the chefs and are now waiting for some kind of remuneration.
In the meanwhile I talk to Lekuba. “I voted for the DA,” he says, removing his identity book from his pocket. “I voted ANC from 1994 and look at me now. I am homeless, I am jobless.”
Standing up and beckoning me to listen to him carefully, he continues, “I’ve given the ANC enough chances.
“The ANC gives us propoganda. They promise us things but do nothing.”
Lekuba makes clear that he does not feel obliged to vote ANC.
“Thanks for the ANC. Our grandfathers supported the ANC, but I choose DA,” he insists.
“Nobody can tell me who to vote for.” DM
- The Curious Case of Cajee: A wannabe ANC councillor in problem-ridden ward 58 in Daily Maverick