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‘They’ve left the poor behind’ — Western Cape rural voters say they’ve lost faith in ANC

‘They’ve left the poor behind’ — Western Cape rural voters say they’ve lost faith in ANC
'Rasta' Roelfse in Robertson. | Denia Jansen at a Rural Women's Assembly event in Montagu. | Guerrilla farmer and 'born free' Sheriff Ramoabi checks on plants in Zolani. | Widowed Sephia Kerneels talks to Daily Maverick, in Robertson, about her eviction from the farm she had lived on since 1997. (Photo: An Wentzel)

After 30 years of ANC government, the rural poor are still poor – national data shows that most of the South African poor reside outside urban centres. In the Langeberg Municipality in the Western Cape, they say they have lost faith in the party of liberation.

Rasta Roelfse is a lanky, wiry smallholder farmer who has a history in the apartheid struggle and of service to his community. As his nickname suggests, he is a Rastafarian. His full name: “The name my mother and father gave me? John James Harold Roelfse.”

Roelfse lives and farms in Bonnievale, near picturesque Robertson, in the Western Cape. Robertson is known for wine, wine farms and most recently for issues with farmworkers – such as food security and farm evictions. Bonnievale is known for high unemployment, teenage pregnancy and poor education levels.

Roelfse is a longstanding ANC member with a history of activism within the organisation. Daily Maverick first spoke with him at the shared office of the Rural Women’s Assembly and the Commercial, Stevedoring and Allied Workers Union in Robertson.

Western Cape farmworkers

‘Rasta’ Roelfse talks to Daily Maverick in Robertson (Photo: An Wentzel)

The 53-year-old says he has been involved in working for food sovereignty for just over a decade: “For 12 years, to be exact… because of the suffering that I see in my community, the suffering on the faces of the people.”

A former member of Umkhonto weSizwe, Roelfse says: “As liberators we continue the work because the people need to be liberated.”

He is still a member of the ANC but is not active: “I was chief of staff of the SDU [self defence unit] groups in the Western Cape and I was exiled in Tanzania.”

He plans to vote on 29 May but it’s not clear if the ANC will get his vote: “Let’s rather not talk about the ANC… I am going to vote. The Bill of Rights in South Africa’s pioneering Constitution grants all citizens 18 and older the right to vote, but the question is whether voting will really make a difference… and it does! If I/you don’t vote, others will make the decision for you cause voting is an opportunity for change.”

As in many other parts of the country, the ANC is trying to stay relevant in Langeberg. In the 2019 national elections, the DA won 51% of the vote there, followed by the ANC at 31% and Freedom Front Plus with 4%. In 2014, the ANC won 37% of the national vote in the area.

Rasta and a smallholder farmer partner have recently appeared to become a success story and victory for NGOs in the Langeberg district.

They have just received land from the government – more than 100 acres in Bonnievale. “But there are conditions,” says Rasta, who explains they are still working out the fine print. (An NGO working with land issues in Robertson has confirmed the land deal to Daily Maverick).

Tannie Sephia Kerneels, who lives in rural Robertson, also spoke to Daily Maverick at the start of February. She is in the middle of an eviction case after the farm where the 52-year-old lived with her husband for decades, evicted her after her husband – who worked on the farm – died. 

Western Cape farmworkers

Widowed Sephia Kerneels talks to Daily Maverick, in Robertson, about her eviction from the farm she had lived on since 1997. (Photo: Wentzel)

It is unclear whether she will win her case to stay on the farm and she insists that she will vote.

“I want a better life. Because the farmers do whatever they want with us people of colour. You work for them for many years and when the time comes when you are unable to continue working then they want to put you out on the street or treat you badly. So I have to vote – for a better life.” 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Bitter tears in the ‘valley of wine and roses’ where farmworkers battle eviction

A scant 20km outside Robertson is Zolani. That’s where guerrilla farmer Sheriff Ramoabi runs a farm on land that has been unattended for years. Ramoabi was born in Witbank and raised in Lesotho by her grandparents until the age of seven when her parents found a place in Zolani where they could live and work and she could join them.

She says she will vote: “My reason is simple: I will vote because I believe in change and if I don’t vote, nothing will happen.”

Guerrilla farmer and ‘born free’ Sheriff Ramoabi checks on plants on the farm in Zolani (Photo: An Wentzel)

The 25-year-old is a “born-free” – a young South African born after apartheid. Life is hard for the activist but her spirit is strong and hopeful and she sees a better South Africa on the horizon.

Despite being younger than the country’s democracy, she is clear that she has not gained much from it and by change she says she means something different to the current status quo.

“The way government functions, they need other methods to make change happen. Perhaps they need to listen to NGOs. Instead of using strategies that don’t involve NGOs”.

She will vote “to give someone else a chance, as the ANC has had enough chances”.

Community activist Denia Jansen is not hopeful. While she will vote, it will not be for the ANC. The 50-year-old has deep roots in the Robertson and surrounding farmworker communities. The daughter of farmworkers, Jansen was born and lives in McGregor, about 22km from Robertson. 

She has for about two decades worked with farmworkers around issues of landlessness, farm evictions, food security and more.

Denia Jansen at a Rural Women’s Assembly event in Montagu in October 2023 (Photo: Wentzel)

For Jansen, 30 years of democracy has shown that as time goes by there is more democracy for the haves and less and less democracy for the have-nots.

“I believe that democracy is real when everyone is included in decision-making processes, but the poor remain excluded from processes that can make conditions better. It is heartbreaking when you see young kids on the street because the education system failed them.”

She makes no bones about the fact that she is not happy with the ANC.

“Men and women are standing on street corners waiting for a job because the same ANC that we voted for, and are still voting for, have left the poor behind. The social fabric of our communities is being ripped apart while the ANC leaders live in big houses full of food and wine while poor people are dying outside.” DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    This is both sad and wonderful to see…

    Sad that our brothers have had to suffer so much under the ANC to get to this point.

    Wonderful that we have all seen their corruption and are no longer fooled by their empty promises.

    Lets vote to change our future for the better!

  • Ben Harper says:

    Couldn’t liberate their way out of a wet paper bag

  • Ben Harper says:

    Are the kids standing on the corners becuase the education system has failed them or because their parents (or more likely parent, singular) has failed them?

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