“I’m so tired,” admits Ayanda Mhlongo.
Mhlongo, the EFF’s regional secretary for the district of Ilembe in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), is at the election coalface. His small office in KwaDukuza — still known as Stanger to many KZN residents — is strewn with boxes of EFF flyers listing the key points of the party’s manifesto in isiZulu.
With special voting having begun across the province a few hours earlier, Mhlongo describes these final hours of the campaign as “very stressful”.
From this office, Mhlongo and his colleagues have been coordinating the movements of party agents across the 77 wards which fall within the Ilembe district.
He rattles off the current activities of the EFF’s footsoldiers:
“They are going door to door talking to individuals. We have our blitz programme: On busy corners, we are giving out our manifestos. Today, party agents have been deployed to each voting district, and we are also assisting with home visits.”
The “home visits” to which Mhlongo refers are the voting provisions made by the IEC for voters who are too sick, infirm or elderly to travel to a voting station. In the two days before the 8 May 2019 elections, they are able to cast their votes from their homes as part of the “special voting” process.
About half an hour’s drive from Mhlongo’s office, an ANC heavyweight had just cast her own special vote at the voting station set up at the Compensation Trading Store in Ward 28 of the KwaDukuza municipality.
Minister in the Presidency Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma told Daily Maverick that she was registered at this station — a tiny venue off the R102 set among sugar cane fields — due to its proximity to her home.
The presiding electoral officer at the station, Vusi Mpunpose, said that Dlamini-Zuma’s vote was the third to be cast on Monday, with one more expected.
Although this area of northern KZN has been identified as a potential hot spot for election violence, Mpunpose told Daily Maverick:
“We are not expecting any trouble”.
After casting her vote, however, Dlamini-Zuma took advantage of the handful of journalists present to issue a warning:
“It’s not allowed, actually, for anyone to stop someone who wants to vote. If that is going to happen, I hope that the services that are meant to deal with that will be there to make sure that people who want to vote are allowed to vote and vote peacefully and freely.”
The EFF’s Mhlongo told Daily Maverick that party campaigners had received a hostile reception in two KwaDukuza wards in recent weeks: One in an IFP stronghold and another where “the community said ‘No, we will not be voting’, and chased us away”.
For a party like the EFF, which has struggled to achieve much traction in KZN, there are still no-go zones in the province.
“The deep rural areas, we can’t reach,” says Mhlongo.
The party also does not waste its limited resources on campaigning in KZN suburbs, where predominantly middle-class white and Indian voters are largely written off as a lost cause to the Fighters.
“Townships, closer rural areas, squatter camps” — this is where the EFF has focused its KZN campaign.
Since 2009, the province has been assumed to be something of a hopeless bet for parties other than the ANC, with the ruling party capturing 64.52% of the provincial vote in 2014. Its closest contender, the DA, trailed with 12.76% provincially. The EFF could manage just 1.85%.
This time around, however, there is a feeling in the air that things might be different.
The DA has taken the unusual step of deploying party leader Mmusi Maimane to KwaMashu on Tuesday to lead a last-ditch rally: Unusual because the meticulously organised DA normally concludes its rallies several days earlier.
On Monday, meanwhile, the South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) released the truly eyebrow-raising results of its final pre-election poll, suggesting that even with a relatively high turnout of 76.5% of registered KZN voters, the ANC would fail to win an outright majority provincially.
In the best-case scenario, the SAIRR has the ANC on 49% in KZN, with the DA and the EFF surging significantly on 21% and 13% respectively.
Polls are always unreliable and the SAIRR stresses that its results are not “a prediction” but rather a “snapshot in time”, based on the responses of only a few thousand potential voters.
Possibly in response to the poll, ANC KZN released a decidedly bullish statement on Monday afternoon announcing that it was preparing for an “overwhelming” election victory.
“Overwhelmingly, our people, both black and white, young and old have expressed their hope and firm belief that only the African National Congress has a vision and clarity of thought about the future of our province and country,” the statement said.
But local opposition party activists such as Mhlongo believe that 2019’s results may indeed look quite different in the province.
The key difference between the 2014 and the 2019 election for the EFF, he says, is that “the organisation at the time (2014) was young and our main stumbling block was resources”.
Coming into the 2019 polls, Mhlongo believes that the EFF has made substantial inroads in KZN by helping workers embroiled in labour disputes and targeting students and young voters.
The pressure on party workers at the level of Mhlongo is almost palpable: He has been tasked with growing the EFF’s vote in the Ilembe district from 6,000 to 88,000, or just under 23% of all registered voters in the area.
Adding to the uncertainty for politicians nationally is the question of voter turnout, with recent reports suggesting that as many as a third of registered voters may not actually cast a ballot.
Young South Africans, on whom the EFF is relying heavily at the polls, are believed to be particularly ambivalent about voting.
“Youth that are there in the tertiary (institutions), they are gonna vote,” predicts Mhlongo.
“The youth that we are worried about are those that are unemployed, the ones that are sitting in the township. They seem more dejected; they don’t know what to do. That’s where our main concern maybe lies.” DM
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