South Africa

BY-ELECTION SUPER WEDNESDAY

On the ground in Saldanha: ‘Fight drug abuse, not each other,’ residents urge politicians

Eustace Mara, 52, who has lived in Louwville on the West Coast of the Western Cape for 42 years, says drug dealing and abuse is tainting the neighbourhood. Promises from politicians are no comfort to him. (Picture Brenton Geach)

A political manoeuvre in the Western Cape’s Saldanha Bay municipality saw one of its wards become the centre of a by-election with its former councillor, who resigned from the DA, again in the running, this time under the umbrella of the Good party. Beneath this political chess game, residents say they hope politicians will stop bickering and instead focus on drug abuse, which is ravaging the neighbourhood.

This article was updated with the by-election results outcome. See below. 

One of the best things about living in Louwville, a small suburb about 90 minutes outside Cape Town in the town of Vredenburg, is apparently the tight-knit community, but some residents say rampant drug abuse is creating divisions among them and tearing up their equilibrium.

“The biggest problem here isn’t the gangs. It’s the dwelms [drugs] and the drug use. Tik and buttons [Mandrax].

A view of Louwville in Vredenburg during municipal by-elections on 11 November 2020. Vredenburg is a West Coast town in the Western Cape. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

“Yes, yes, the gangs are behind the selling of drugs, but they don’t really shoot here,” Eustace Mara, 52, a resident of Louwville for 42 years, explained on Wednesday.

He stood on a sandy pavement outside a little tuckshop, graffiti scrawled across its front wall. As he spoke, several young men ambled by and greeted him.

Mara, wearing a multicolour shirt flecked with white paint, said he was a professional painter, but on days when he couldn’t find work or needed a break, he meandered around Louwville, much like the men who greeted him, and struck up conversations with old friends.

Children outside the voting station in Louwville on 11 November 2020. Vredenburg is a town on the Western Cape’s West Coast. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

“Unemployment is bad. Most of us from Louwville become builders. But Covid had a big impact, there was less work and the drugs picked up,” he said.

“The crime is also bad because of the drugs. It’s mainly break-ins and robberies.”

Louwville, which makes up most of Ward 13, falls under the DA-controlled Saldanha Bay Municipality and was one of 11 wards contested in by-elections in the Western Cape on Wednesday.

According to the 2011 census, Louwville is just under 3km2 in size and had a population of around 11,950.

The issue of unemployment has for long plagued the suburb and the broader area.

This was exacerbated in November last year when ArcelorMittal SA announced it was shutting down its Saldanha steel operation, meaning more than 500 jobs would be lost.

At the time, Business Maverick reported that the impact of job losses was expected to have much wider implications and affect more than just those left unemployed.

In November 2018, protests erupted in Louwville, with residents demanding cheaper electricity and water, as well as housing.

Asked if he had voted in Wednesday’s by-election, Mara, an incredulous look on his face, replied: “For what?”

Children fix a roof in the midday sun in Louwville. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

The father of seven, switching between English and Afrikaans, said he could not trust politicians as he felt they simply made empty promises when they needed support.

Al wat jy sien hier [All that you see here] is negative, I’m the only one that can change that for myself. The politicians, they fight among themselves instead of helping us,” he said.

‘Don’t do drugs’

In another part of Louwville, which residents pointed to as the oldest section, mothers carrying babies walked around with friends, and several men stood outside brick homes extended with rooms made of corrugated iron sheets.

A cross in 4th Avenue, Louwville, where a young man was murdered a few months ago. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

Warm greetings were exchanged along the streets.

Graffiti, including the number 28 and the letters YGB, apparently referring to the 28s gang and the Young Gifted Bastards gang, on walls between homes or on vacant ramshackle buildings, hinted that gangsterism was an issue in the area.

Several residents said that while the police patrolled the area, especially over weekends, they did not trust police officers. They felt the police were not doing enough to control drug-fuelled crime.

A small wooden cross, with blue plastic flowers attached to it, marked a spot on a dusty pavement in front of a row of houses. Residents said this was where Nicodeam January, 23, better known by his nickname Piellas, was murdered in a shooting on 6 September this year.

“We don’t really have gangs here. He was shot when they came here looking for someone he didn’t know,” said a resident, who asked to remain anonymous for safety reasons.

“We don’t know who did the shooting. No one will talk. I can’t remember the last time there was a shooting, but I remember, long before, we did hear shots and screaming,” the resident said.

“The drugs is the biggest problem. It’s everywhere. Most of the people use drugs. It’s going on for years, but [it’s] worse now with Covid.”

The resident reiterated that unemployment was a major problem in Louwville and the surrounding area. Several residents, speaking anonymously, expressed unhappiness that foreigners seemed to get jobs whereas they could not.

In July 2020, xenophobic attacks were reported in Vredenburg.

Despite these issues and the problems Louwville was experiencing, the resident would not consider leaving.

“I love living here, I won’t ever move. It’s quiet most of the time and these are my people. They don’t have anything in life and when I can give, I do.”

As the resident was talking, two young boys ran along the street, playing.

“We all watch out for them.”

The resident planned to drill one message into them: “Don’t do drugs.”

“Ooh, that’s such an evil. They steal and break in just to carry on using.”

The resident voted in Wednesday’s by-election to participate in a process that would hopefully see positive change in Louwville. 

‘Change is coming’

Candidate for ward councillor, Sucilla van Tura of the Good party, casts her vote on 11 November in Louwville. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

Ward 13’s councillor was previously Sucilla van Tura who resigned from the Saldanha Bay Municipality in July 2020, alleging that racism within the DA was the reason she left. She then joined Good and became its candidate to head the ward.

Van Tura, who has lived in Vredenburg for 42 years, told Daily Maverick she had not seen eye-to-eye with Saldanha Bay Mayor Marius Koen, who was appointed in 2016, and some other senior DA members.

“They’ve lost touch with the people on the ground,” she said.

If elected councillor again, Van Tura said it would be the first Good-run ward in the municipality:

Voting stations in Ward 13, Louwville. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

“We won’t change the municipality with this seat, but we want to get the message across, that change is coming.”

Van Tura acknowledged that because she had lived in Vredenburg for more than four decades and residents were familiar with who she was and what she stood for, when she left the DA and joined Good, residents who supported her had also started supporting Good.

“I have the support,” she said. “People are looking for change.”

EFF members put up posters of their candidate, Danzil Putty, outside a voting station in Louwville. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

Van Tura was up against Michael Schaffers of the DA, Zalton Botha of the ANC, Lehlohonolo Danzil Putty of the EFF, Michael Thys of the ACDP and Jenny Moors of the African Progressive Movement.

On Wednesday at a voting station at the Louwville community hall, Good supporters appeared most energetic and vocal, in comparison with the other parties. When Van Tura arrived to vote, she was surrounded by chanting Good supporters.

Candidate for ward councillor, Sucilla van Tura of the Good party, with her supporters outside the voting station in Louwville, Vredenburg on 11 November 2020. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

Mayor Koen told Daily Maverick that while Van Tura had claimed racism was the reason she had left the DA, she had actually been spotted in Good meetings while still a DA member, which was unacceptable political behaviour. Van Tura, appearing buoyed by the support she was receiving on Wednesday, said she did not care what was said about her.

“They know they lost a good councillor. They must worry,” she said.

Koen, however, appeared confident.

He said the DA was “feeling extremely positive” about the by-election.

“This has always been a DA ward. We’re looking forward to the new councillor.”

Schaffers, the DA candidate, planned to prioritise issues including crime and drug abuse, the very problems residents said were most prevalent.

“I will continue discussions with the church and Social Development to help people who are abusing drugs,” his manifesto said.

ANC candidate Zalton Botha said if elected, he wanted to focus on drugs, unemployment and assisting people with disabilities.

In 2019 the DA lost some votes to Good, but retained its grip on the ward with the ANC coming in second and Good third. While the ANC has previously been one of the DA’s main threats, Good (formed in December 2018) emerged a fierce contender on Wednesday.

Good has previously pitted itself against the DA in Saldanha Bay, levelling claims of underhandedness against the party.

Hijacking of Covid-19 food relief

Last week Good secretary-general Brett Herron said the party had asked the Special Investigating Unit to look into the “hijacking” of Covid food relief.

“More than a million rands’ worth of food funded by the state and private sector companies – meant for distribution to destitute families during lockdown – was instead used to manipulate the outcome of an upcoming by-election,” Herron claimed.

He alleged that food parcels were initially “hoarded” in municipal traffic facilities in Vredenburg, but when residents realised this, they protested and the food was moved to a hall in the town.

Delayed distribution, Herron claimed, resulted in some food rotting.

He further alleged: “Remaining food was then distributed to 80 ‘soup kitchens’ operated from the homes of DA ‘friends’. From there, much of it was distributed as patronage by councillors.”

But Saldanha Bay Municipality spokesperson Ethne Lawrence said it had proof of the distribution of the food to beneficiaries and would cooperate with any government agency that conducted an investigation into the matter. DM

Update at 13.50pm on Thursday, 12 November 2020:  The DA’s Michael Schaffers won ward 13 with 44.62% of votes, according to the Independent Electoral Commission. Good’s Sucilla van Tura made headway in the ward, coming in second with 39.27% of the votes, and the ANC’s Zalton Botha was third with 12.99%.

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