South Africa

2021 LOCAL ELECTIONS

KZN hotspot: Calm start to voting at Glebelands Hostel in Umlazi

KZN hotspot: Calm start to voting at Glebelands Hostel in Umlazi
Residents line up to cast their vote at the KwaMashu hostel north of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal during the local government elections on 1 November 2021. (Photo: Phumlani Thabethe)

When Police Minister Bheki Cele arrived at around 11am he was told that everything was ‘fine’ — except, of course, for the technical glitch that delayed voting.

The notorious Glebelands Hostel, in Umlazi, south of Durban, was relatively calm when the voting station opened at 7am on election day.

But there was a heavy police presence accompanied by two South African National Defence Force (SANDF) vehicles carrying dozens of soldiers who were deployed to ensure that nothing untoward happened.

When Police Minister Bheki Cele arrived at around 11am he was told that everything was “fine”.

Except, of course, for the technical glitch that delayed voting. According to Aphiwe Sihlahla, a presiding officer at the Glebelands Hall voting station, the voter management device (VMD) did not pick up some voters who had registered at the voting station.

The Electoral Commission was testing the new VMD system on a large scale for the first time during these elections.

“After that was sorted out, everything has been smooth. That is what we told the police minister and he expressed happiness at the manner in which we have handled these elections,” Sihlahla said.

Glebelands is one of KZN’s political hotspots where there have been many killings in recent months and years.

The latest killing was on Sunday, 12 September when Sthembiso Mkhize (41), a member of the local peace committee and a supporter of the ANC, was shot and killed in Glebelands Block R. He died instantly. His neighbours said he was shot in front of his three-year-old son. There are fears that his death could trigger more murders in the hostel.

According to Vanessa Burger, an independent community activist who has researched violence at the hostels in Durban, more than 150 killings in KZN and other provinces can be linked to hitmen who live at Glebelands, or have ties to the hostel.

The Moerane Commission was told that the hostel was a “reservoir of hitmen”. The commission made an on-site visit to the hostel in September 2017.

Burger said the hostel remains on a knife-edge, a place where violence could occur at a moment’s notice.

People inside and outside the voting station were apprehensive, with many refusing to talk to journalists.

One man, who refused to give his name for fear of his safety, said: “I don’t want to be seen talking to the media. People here can say, ‘We saw so-and-so speaking, and ask me what I was talking about.’ I have three young children. I don’t want to die and leave them without anyone to support them.”

Mbali Mthiyane (46) said she was excited to be able to cast her vote in Ward 76.

“I said I must come to vote because I want change in my life and in my community. We are scared of living here but we are forced to stay and endure violence and fear because there is nowhere else to go.”

Faya Cele, wearing an ANC T-shirt, said there is peace in the hostel now.

kzn hostel

Themba Mkhize (left) and his neighbour Sabelo Ntombela wait to cast their vote on 1 November 2021 at the KwaMashu hostel north of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal. (Photo: Phumlani Thabethe)

“As you can see for yourself, everyone is free to vote. I am confident that the ANC will win this ward as we are all ANC here… there is no other political party canvassing here, other than the ANC,” he said.

Not far from the voting station a burst sewerage pipe forced residents and hawkers to jump over faeces.

Sphelele Ngcemu, a 27-year-old hawker who sells fruit, cosmetics and underwear, said the sewerage pipe often bursts.

“Even some customers run away and don’t buy because of this smell and that they have to jump poop to come here,” she said.

Nevertheless, Ngcemu said she was still going to vote after she closed her business. “I am still hopeful for change. I am voting because I want a RDP house, I want a good job, I want improvement in my life.”

The July looting has affected the Glebelands community. The nearby Mega City Mall was looted and gutted. But now, almost five months later, it has been renovated and is working almost optimally.

The Jeena warehouse and wholesale — within walking distance of the Glebelands Hostel — was also looted and gutted. It now resembles a building in a war zone as it has not been repaired.

Hawkers said the looting of the centre had crippled their businesses because they relied on shoppers from the mall to buy at their shops.

A hawker, who declined to give his name, said: “When the looting was taking place we thought it was all good. But now we are feeling the pinch.”

Glebelands Hostel and KwaMashu Hostel are two of the KZN hotspots where the KZN Civil Society Coalition sent observers to monitor the situation before, during and after the 1 November elections.

Presiding officer Siphesihle Fakazi said everything was running “smoothly” at KwaMashu Hostel and they were happy with the conduct of political parties and their agents.

“The only problem is that people are frustrated that the process is taking too long and they have to queue longer in the sun. They don’t understand that we have to keep the Covid-19 protocols and we cannot allow more than four people at the same time inside the voting station,” he said.

Waiting in line was Themba Mkhize (52). He said he had been convinced to come out and vote, but he did not believe that it would change anything.

“Once we vote for these people [councillors] they forget about us. They relocate and go and stay in white people’s areas. Politicians have failed us and we are only hoping for a miracle to change our lives,” he said.

Other residents standing in the line pointed to the uncollected rubbish.

“We are living like animals. A municipality that loves its people will not allow us to live like this,” said Cindy Mhlongo, one of the women waiting patiently in line to vote.

“We want a candidate that will build us decent homes, take us out of the informal settlement and put us in decent houses, with electricity, water and other amenities. I’m hopeful that the candidate I vote for will achieve all of these things.” DM

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