The DA Gauteng Premier hopeful Mmusi Maimane and his team visited troubled Sebokeng on Sunday, in a last-gasp election registration drive. One of the Gauteng areas that has been hardest-hit by service delivery protests, Sebokeng was subdued, sometimes eerily quiet. By BHEKI C. SIMELANE.
In Sebokeng, the last day for registration to vote in the upcoming national election got off to a very slow start. Only a few people turned up in the registration centre on Sunday morning. Lefika Primary School, where Gauteng DA’s Maimane and his team met with Sebokeng residents, was not an exception, save a group of DA members who came to see their leaders outside the school gates.
Not much changed as the day grew older; the people of Sebokeng chose to stay put instead of coming out to register. Some were seen loitering the school premises, some in ANC T-shirts. But mostly it was so quiet one would have been forgiven for thinking there was an examination in progress.
Addressing a group outside the school gates, Maimane acknowledged the lives that were lost during recent service delivery protests. (Maimane and his team also later visited the family of Lerata Rabolila, who was shot and killed during service delivery protests in the area last week.) Maimane said the people of Sebokeng were on Sunday choosing the ballot box over the bullet. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he said the best way to bring change to Gauteng was to vote in a new government committed to delivering services and jobs. He spoke of the Democratic Alliance persistently showing a very strong resistance to ANC employment policy, and reminded residents of the DA plan to march to Luthuli House, set for Wednesday 12 February.
“Jacob Zuma’s ANC has turned its back on this area and the rest of Gauteng; residents here have been demanding President Zuma’s presence the whole week,” he said. “But where is Zuma, despite his promise to visit the province this weekend? The president chose to ‘relax’ in Nkandla while people protest for houses in Sebokeng,” he added.
Maimane said he took part in his first protest in the early 90s, when he was only 11 years old, saying that he did not fully understand the ideology or the events occurring around him that day. He did, however, say pointedly that he was grateful for the life he was able to live since then and the opportunities he was able to take – having survived the protest.
The mood in Sebokeng is tense these days and many residents were not willing to say much, or anything, but those who did spoke angrily.
Resident Jacob Mabe (57) warned sternly against being quoted anonymously, saying he had no problem at all airing his views and that he did not really expect anyone else in Sebokeng to have a problem with it, before saying problems were all over the ANC. He said the root of the problem was the arrogance shown by government officials. Mabe added that government was corrupt and that that was the reason people were fighting. He said the level of corruption in South Africa had reached unprecedented levels since democracy and that the ANC deployees found guilty of corruption in some departments were fired but resurfaced later in other departments.
Mabe said there was no control whatsoever and that in the current government, everybody could go in and come out as they pleased.
“Listen, boy, when you go to a supermarket to buy some goods, the till is immediately closed on completion of the transaction, and that is the problem with the ANC government – they all want the till to remain open,” said Mabe, combining Sepedi with English as he went. Mabe said all this was happening under the noses of the poor citizens. He said government spent taxpayers’ money rather than its own extravagantly and that this had to stop. Asked on why no one in the government made sure the till closed after the transaction, Mabe said if you tried to close the till they’d burn your hands.
On water, Mabe said in some instances officials who own trucks companies sabotaged the whole water system or purification system so that they could hire their own trucks to fetch water from other places. Mabe said this was too high a level of corruption.
He also spoke out against the more recent problem of police brutality.
“If those who are at the bottom are unable to benefit from tenders at the top, they scrape for theirs from the bottom, and at the end it’s the people who suffer,” said Mabe. He said he had no hope, as the people had no voice.
“The buck has to stop here, though. Let’s just unite and get rid of the Zuma administration,” he added.
Maimane said he acknowledged the concerns of the many people who were dying for change but that the first and best thing for them to do to have their voices heard was to register to vote.
“We want to show the current government that the pen is mightier than the bullet,” Maimane said.
A quick visit to another registration centre in Zone 13 was met with… silence. For the 15 minutes spent there, not a single person came in or out of the makeshift tent that was the registration centre. Another venue that was chosen as a registration centre, a church building, had a church service in progress at about 11:30 am, at which time registration was supposed to have been in progress until the late afternoon.
As Maimane’s team headed back towards Johannesburg, it was obvious the violent events of the previous week had surprised some, terrified many and angered even more. Walking the streets of Sebokeng, one could feel something had changed drastically in this community. Residents are saying that for as long as they wake up each day to face the same problems they complain about, and as long as the government remains impervious, they will still protest violently, even if they get shot at and killed for it. Three months before the general elections, that message does not leave much hope that things will be better soon in Sebokeng. DM
Photo: Protesters carry placards as they take part in a service delivery protest in Sebokeng, south of Johannesburg, February 5, 2014. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko