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ROAD TO 2024 ELECTIONS

Thirty years after democracy, fed-up Northern Cape residents thirst for more

Thirty years after democracy, fed-up Northern Cape residents thirst for more
People walk past a mural featuring the ANC logo outside De Aar in the Northern Cape on the morning of 10 April 2024. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

The Northern Cape is geographically the largest and demographically the smallest province in the country. Always something of an anomaly, the province is often seen as up for grabs by opposition parties. On the ground, many say they are hungry for change.

In Emthanjeni Local Municipality in the Northern Cape, something unusual happened between the 2016 and 2021 local government elections.

Nationally, the ANC’s support between those two municipal polls dropped from 53.91% in 2016 to 45.59% five years later.

But in Emthanjeni, when the results were counted, the opposite trend was evident. Support for the ruling party actually grew: from 57.82% in 2016 to 60.21% in 2021. Votes for the opposition decreased over the same period.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Elections 2024 – All your questions answered

Walking the streets of the largest town in the municipality, De Aar, it is hard to understand why this would be the case. On its perimeter, fields of shiny solar panels attest to the boom in renewable energy developments in this sun- and wind-rich area. But there is little evidence that these projects have yet translated into meaningful betterment for the residents of De Aar. Signs of poverty and aimlessness are everywhere.

Northern Cape

An intersection in De Aar shows a poorly tarred, pothole-riddled road and non-functioning traffic lights. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

“We are jobless,” said 29-year-old Siyamthanda Gwegwe, standing on the dusty main drag in De Aar, holding his baby.

Gwegwe matriculated in 2013. In the 11 years since, he has never had a permanent job. He said he would take any kind of work.

“People are not happy,” he said, shaking his head. Water supply in De Aar remains a perennial problem. “[On voting day] I will make a change.”

The ANC’s offices for the Pixley ka Seme region stood a few hundred meters up the road, identifiable by the yellowing posters in the window.

There, an ANC official welcomed us into his office for a chat. He needed to remain anonymous because he wasn’t cleared to talk to the media, he said, and authorities are strict about such things as elections approach.

“From 1994 to now, we are still on track,” he declared confidently. “The provincial government has been able to deliver. The narrative of the ANC is being bought.”  

The water issue was largely resolved, he said. (Residents dispute this.) Gravel roads were being upgraded. A huge housing project was under way. He acknowledged that the private renewable energy projects mushrooming around the area had yet to bring the hoped-for economic dividends for residents, but urged patience.

Northern Cape

Twenty-nine-year-old De Aar resident Siyamthanda Gwegwe has been unemployed for several years. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

Entirely bullish about the May 29 polls, the official nonetheless saw two parties as particular local irritants: “The PA [Patriotic Alliance] and EFF [Economic Freedom Fighters] want to wipe out 30 years of progress,” he said.

Insistent that we hear more about these 30 years of progress, he walked us down the street to the municipal offices and negotiated a drop-in on Emthanjeni municipal manager Disang Molaole, a tracksuit-clad bureaucrat with a disarming smile and a warm handshake.

Emthanjeni is the municipality with the highest underspending in South Africa, and according to Auditor-General reports it has been in a concerning financial position for at least the last five years.

When we broached this with Molaole, he grinned without a shred of defensiveness.

“We are not bad; rather, we are average,” he said – adding that he had only been in the job for nine months.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, given the municipality’s documented underspending habits, Molaole pointed to inadequate funding for local municipalities as complicating service delivery. Then there was the ageing De Aar infrastructure: “The water pipes date back to 1943”.

Molaole was convinced that the good times were around the corner when it came to the solar boom.

“The economic spin-offs will be there,” he said.

The Emthanjeni council was stable, Molaole said, and local politics largely civil.

“We are polluted by only one party: the red ones.”

The red ones did not respond to Daily Maverick’s request for comment. But this week, Emthanjeni recorded a by-election result which may have given the sunny ANC and municipal officials pause for thought.

Northern Cape

Disang Molaole, the municipal manager of Emthanjeni Local Municipality, in his office on 10 April 2024. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

Although the ANC held on to Ward 3 in Emthanjeni with a thunderous 79%, that result is a significant decline from its previous 92% for the ward. The EFF, meanwhile, grew from 6% in 2021 to 21%.

“It may look benign, but this is a pretty scary result for the ANC in the context of the NC [Northern Cape] provincial election coming up,” analyst Dawie Scholtz wrote on X.

Separately, Scholtz added: “EFF inroads in the NC black electorate is potentially fatal for ANC in NC.”

***

Almost five hours’ drive north of De Aar, in another corner of this giant province, a young politician called Shepherd Mines was leading a group of campaign volunteers in a prayer.

Around 25 people stood in a semicircle in front of Mines, heads bowed. They had met up in the yard of Mines’ modest home in the village of Olifantshoek: a house instantly recognisable by the campaign banner featuring Mines’ face draped on its fence.

In a community which has lost faith with politics as normal, Mines – a charismatic 39-year-old with a slight resemblance to the comedian Trevor Noah – is their great hope.

Northern Cape

A banner for Shepherd Mines, the provincial secretary of new political outfit the Northern Cape Communities Movement, hangs across a fence in Olifantshoek, in the Northern Cape, on 12 April 2024. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

As we followed him door-to-door around a dusty township, a 62-year-old called Katrina testified to his local reputation.

“Shepherd is ’n goeie man met ’n goeie hart [Shepherd is a good man with a good heart],” she said.

“Hy het voor my groot geword [He grew up in front of me].”

Even the local “blankes” [white residents] supported Shepherd, she said.

“Ons was almal hier ANC. Maar die ANC het ons opgemors [We were all ANC supporters here. But the ANC has messed us up].”

Earlier, seated in his lounge, Mines had told us what brought him to this point. He is currently a proportional representation (PR) councillor for this area, and previously worked with a local organisation called the Gamagara Community Forum. That group held consultations with other community bodies and decided to contest the elections together. Come May 29, they will be on the ballot under the banner of the Northern Cape Communities Movement (NCCM).

None of the existing parties was doing enough for the people of Olifantshoek, Mines said.

“What makes it difficult in the ANC is that the national structures decide policy, then that has to be implemented locally,” he said. Mines would know: he previously held the posts of treasurer of the ANC Youth League and deputy ANC chair in the region.

“Once you are a councillor of the ANC, you become useless. You are bound by the mandate of the regional secretary.”

DA councillors in the area had been “too quiet”, he said; the PA was a “no-go”.

One of the tipping points leading to the formation of the NCCM was the healthcare situation in the area, Mines said.

“For an ambulance, you must phone Kuruman [100km away],” he said.

“You don’t wait shorter than three hours for an ambulance. If it’s busy in the villages, you wait five, six, seven hours. People are dying. In Kuruman [at the hospital], people get discharged on the basis of ‘Wena you’ll survive, you must hitchhike home’.”

Leading his group of volunteers through Olifantshoek, Mines reminded them: “Elke vote tel [Every vote counts].”

Their mission on this particular Friday was to educate people about special votes, and to help prospective voters who lacked IDs.

Northern Cape

The NCCM’s Shepherd Mines speaks to an Olifantshoek resident on 12 April 2024. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

“There have been people here for 15 years without basic services,” Mines said as we walked.

“The ANC ward councillor lives in a house they call Nkandla.”

The NCMM’s calculations suggested that the Northern Cape could be governed by coalitions after the elections, he said. Their biggest concern: to prevent the EFF and the ANC together getting past the 50% threshold.

“We are not going to work with the ANC. The real enemy is the ANC, for the sake of the people of the Northern Cape.”

Mines was raised by his grandparents in this village, but left in adulthood to live and work in Pretoria and Cape Town. When he came back for a visit years later, he decided he had to enter the local political fray to try to improve things, rather than join the chorus of complaint.

Ahead of this year’s elections, on the 3oth anniversary of freedom, Mines believes that change could be in the air.

“People are just fed up. They’re not just going to vote for the love they have for Mandela,” he said.

“Mandela gave us our freedom, but who’s going to give us a job?” DM

Northern Cape political map

 

Read our report about the Joe Morolong municipality here: A tale of two contrasting towns in Northern Cape’s Joe Morolong municipality 

 

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • JAMES GOODWIN says:

    We are very isolated from the economic hubs of Johannesburg and Cape Town. We are in a desolate and harsh climatic zone that doesn’t suit many people so attracting people here is a challenge, as for investment… not much I can say there.

    We’re seeing more locals taking responsibility and initiative by standing up for the NC and our communities. I think we should start a provincial political party aimed at taking control of our legislature by ousting the ANC and sending the EFF back to Limpopo. Our mines are generating billions that never gets invested back into maintaining our province. We’ve given diamonds and gold to the world, all we want is good roads, reliable and efficient services and better schooling. That’s peanuts for the likes of de Beers and co.

    We need to take control of our province and its assets. The New National Party was able to stand by us so it’s possible. A local, 100% Northern Cape party is needed.

  • Karel Martel says:

    The Northern Cape is resource rich and much of those mineral riches are not reinvested into the province thus we see severe under devevopment and poverty and high levels of inequality. The key to the province and a party taking it is the coloured population which forms the majority (the latest census statistics is horribly inaccurate by a lightyear). The ANC manages to harvest the coloured vote through scaremongering and promises which are always unfulfilled after an election has passed. The major reason why coloured people in the NC votes for the ANC is mostly based on their daily experiences in an agricultural province where racist ideologies still survives and often refered to as the last bastion of Apartheid adherents. The older generation with old wounds perpetually vote ANC while the younger ones are just disinterested from a sense of hopelessness. The Northern Cape is fertile for a new kind of party with geniune broad support who fronts the central issue of the political destiny of coloured people in the North who always had a unique and distinctive cultural and ancestral history unique amongst the so called coloured catagory. The middle needs a voice.

  • Karel Martel says:

    The Northern Cape is resource rich and much of those mineral riches are not reinvested into the province thus we see severe under devevopment and poverty and high levels of inequality. The key to the province and a party taking it is the coloured population which forms the majority (the latest census statistics is horribly inaccurate by a lightyear). The ANC manages to harvest the coloured vote through scaremongering and promises which are always unfulfilled after an election has passed. The major reason why coloured people in the NC votes for the ANC is mostly based on their daily experiences in an agricultural province where racist ideologies still survives and often refered to as the last bastion of Apartheid adherents. The older generation with old wounds perpetually vote ANC while the younger ones are just disinterested from a sense of hopelessness. The Northern Cape is fertile for a new kind of party with geniune broad support who fronts the central issue of the political destiny of coloured people in the North who always had a unique and distinctive cultural and ancestral history unique amongst the so called coloured catagory. The middle needs a voice.

  • Sylvia Sekgololo says:

    People of Northern Cape, Let’s vote for the party that will be people centered. We need jobs, health care facilities, decent housing, roads infrastructure and colleges

    • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

      There is only one choice that will make a real difference to peoples’ lives. It defeats how people still just don’t see it after so many years. It is time to put race away and work together, focusing on 2 things only:

      – law and order; and
      – service delivery

      These 2 things will change all our lives, and empower us all to live first world lives.

  • GREG LANDMAN says:

    Is it Shepherd or Sheperd? Just asking.

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