South Africa

On the streets of Mangaung, jobs and housing trump the ANC’s entertainment value

By Erin McLuckie & Thapelo Lekgowa 18 December 2012

As the sleek, black luxury vehicles continue to line the once quiet streets of Bloemfontein and tensions build within the ANC’s elective conference, it’s easy to forget the impact of the conference on the city’s residents. By ERIN MCLUCKIE and THAPELO LEKGOWA/NewsFire.

With the influx of thousands of ANC members, observers and journalists, local businesses are expecting a pre-Christmas bonanza. However, not everyone is going to benefit. For some, the country’s most important political gathering means little else than a greater number of people to beg from on the dusty streets of the city of roses. 

Driven out of the villages and into the city of Bloemfontein by poverty, Simphiwe Gigi has been an informal car guard for nearly five years. “I am a plumber and a painter also, and I have been looking for a job since I got here,” Gigi says. As an informal car guard, Gigi has been able to earn meagre hand-outs of R2 or R5 coins, in return for guarding those sleek SUVs driven by delegates and their drivers. Gigi stresses that this is only a short term source of income and he needs something more stable.

Gigi wants just one thing from the ANC and the conference that is causing so much commotion in this sleepy town. “The ANC is not serious; all I want is a job,” he says. Gigi is adamant that the ANC and President Jacob Zuma should hear his message from the streets. “I am asking for a job, plumbing or painting – that’s all I want from this conference.” 

Thabiso David Ndaba also guards cars, and gives them a clean occasionally too. He wears an ANC bandanna proudly as he carries buckets that are used for both cleaning and seating. When asked about his views on the conference, he is eager to give them, saying: “I am happy for the conference to be held here and I say Phinda, Mzolozi, Phinda [repeat, Zuma, repeat].” A pro-Zuma supporter.

 A third informal car guard steps forward – Steven Palesa Kwetla. The desperation is clear in his eyes. “If I could ask them for one thing while they are in this town it would be for one RDP house for all of us. Just one. We are currently living under a bridge.”

In another part of the city, Lekala Thabang, a vendor, sells merchandise in the blazing heat. For the conference, Thabang has stocked up on ANC paraphernalia that even the police are purchasing. “This is only temporary,” Thabang says, referring to his good fortune during  the conference. His message for the ANC and Zuma is clear: “Currently the harder you work, the less you earn – we need to get rid of labour brokers.” 

Car wash attendants at a garage directly opposite the University of the Free State, where the conference is being held, have worked a lot harder since those SUVs rolled into town, but this hasn’t translated into any more cash in their pocket. “We wash 40-50 cars a day with the conference and the delegates don’t even tip us,” says Maria Bucsh.”

Whilst the festivities, political debates and tensions at the ANC conference absorb the city and country’s attention, these people express their hopes in a pointed message to the president from the streets of Mangaung. The message is clear – leadership battles might have great entertainment value, but housing and jobs are what they really care about. So far, the ANC’s showpiece conference has been more entertaining than anything else. DM

Photo: Mangaung, 16 December 2012. (Greg Marinovich/ Newsfire)

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