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Tulbagh troubles — residents in SA’s fourth-oldest town feel neglected … but will vote

Tulbagh troubles —  residents in SA’s fourth-oldest town feel neglected … but will vote
The informal settlement in Tulbagh, Western Cape. (Photo: Joyrene Kramer)

Old and young residents of Tulbagh in the Western Cape say the government should be doing more to protect their interests.

Tulbagh Valley in the Western Cape may be seen by some as a land of abundance, ringed by mountains and filled with fertile farmland suited to the production of wine and fruit. But for many in Tulbagh village, located about 120km outside Cape Town, opportunities are hard to come by. 

When Daily Maverick sat down with the local youth forum, its members said many young people were sceptical about the government and what it had achieved in the past five years. One member, Amy Booysen, said there was a perception that some political leaders only cared about their position and the money that came with it, rather than the needs of young people and other struggling residents.

“They are not visible, they are not active… So, what I feel is our youth feel that it’s useless to vote because people are only there for themselves,” she said.

Tulbagh

Members of the Tulbagh Youth Forum, from left: Akhanye Mdlokovana, Veronique Gabriël, Amy Booysen, Semone Cupido and Dinene Coetzee. (Photo: Joyrene Kramer)

However, all but one of the five Tulbagh Youth Forum members Daily Maverick met said they planned to vote in the 29 May elections. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Elections 2024

Booysen said: “I feel that we should all vote, we are entitled to vote. In my party, the DA, I feel that we are moving forward and we have put many good things in place for our youth now… As an activist for the DA, I feel that we can go forward and all of us can save the country right now.”

Tulbagh falls in the Witzenberg Local Municipality, an area within the Cape Winelands District Municipality. In the 2021 local government election, the DA received the majority of the votes in Witzenberg Municipality at 36.8%, followed by the ANC at 30.2% and GOOD at 6.3%.

Tulbagh

A residential area in Tulbagh. (Photo: Joyrene Kramer)

Concerns of the young

The youth forum would like to see more government action to address issues such as job creation and the provision of proper housing in Tulbagh. Many in the community rely on seasonal work, either on the surrounding farms or at the local canning and packaging factories. Outside of this, one of the larger opportunities for employment in Tulbagh Valley is the tourism sector.

Dinene Coetzee, chair of the forum, said: “Job creation is a big issue in our town and there really needs to be a change because children sit on the corners of the streets with no direction… This is one of our biggest challenges in our town, job creation. And many of our children have qualifications but they don’t get jobs.”

There was a need for political leaders to work together across party lines, she continued: “Whether we are DA, whether we are PA, or whatever the case may be, for me it is [about] the changes that must happen. And things have to happen.”

Not all young people in the community are convinced that voting can bring about change, however. Akhanye Mdlokovana, another youth forum member, said she would not be voting as she believed politicians would just keep repeating the same patterns of behaviour.

“South Africa at the moment is not going forward. There’s a lack of jobs; the health system is not doing what it’s supposed to do; the system is actually failing people… So, I don’t see the need to vote when nothing is being done, nothing is happening, especially for the youth… For me, I’m not going to vote because there’s actually no use,” she said.

Tulbagh

Jacques Steyn, founder of Care4Tulbagh, at his home in Tulbagh. (Photo: Joyrene Kramer)

Children and food security

Poverty, particularly its impact on children, was also flagged as an area of concern by Jacques Steyn, founder and director of the nonprofit organisation Care4Tulbagh, which conducts research and seeks to unite other interest groups in the area behind the common goal of creating a more sustainable community environment.

One of the organisation’s focus areas has been bringing together the many soup kitchens in Tulbagh so that they can tackle food insecurity in a collaborative way and attract greater support from the government and the private sector. 

Tulbagh

Older residents of Tulbagh wait to receive meals from a local soup kitchen. (Photo: Joyrene Kramer)

Steyn identified a need for more places in the community where children could be engaged constructively and kept off the street, such as public sports facilities and well-equipped early childhood development (ECD) centres. 

“We need to introduce activities. If you can imagine when they’re coming to the soup kitchen now, having educational videos, having talks, having games… just to show the big world out there and expose them to things,” he said.

Jolene May, owner of an early childhood development centre in Tulbagh. (Photo: Joyrene Kramer)

Daily Maverick visited a local ECD centre run by Tulbagh resident Jolene May. She looks after 18 children and is looking to expand her capacity. However, she said one of the major challenges she faced was that parents were often unable to pay for the service, despite the fact that she charges only R350 per month. Money is particularly scarce during the off-season for the farms and fruit canning factory.

For May, voting in the elections is important since it gives her the right to speak out and be listened to. She said: “I know that the majority in our country will want to elect another government. Me too, because today’s government that is still in power, the current government… they led us to load shedding, took us down the drain… 

“There must come another government, there must come other leaders. Because the leaders who are now in power have failed us.”

Children play at Jolene May’s early childhood development centre in Tulbagh. (Photo: Joyrene Kramer)

Forgotten elders

There are a large number of soup kitchens in Tulbagh catering to different areas and groups of people. The one where France Mbam and Ragel Louw work has been running since 2000, providing meals to people over 60. The oldest person they support is in their nineties.

Like many NPOs across the country, the soup kitchen has seen a decline in funding from the Department of Social Development in recent years. Despite this, Mbam says they are constantly looking to expand their service because there are “a lot of elderly people in the community who struggle with food”.

Ragel Louw helps to run a soup kitchen for people over 60 in Tulbagh. (Photo: Joyrene Kramer)

Older residents of Tulbagh wait to receive meals from a local soup kitchen. (Photo: Joyrene Kramer)

People 65 years and older make up about 5.7% of the population in the Witzenberg Local Municipality, according to census data.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Western Cape NPOs sound alarm on impacts of social development budget cuts on the vulnerable

Both Mbam and Louw say they will vote in the elections, with Mbam stating: “I personally plan to vote… because I feel like if I didn’t vote, I’ve got no say. I can’t complain about anything that is taking place around me, when something is wrong.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: 2024 elections

According to Mbam, the needs of South Africa’s elderly are not being prioritised by the government. He told Daily Maverick: “The focus for government is looking to accommodate the young people, so that the young people don’t struggle, and there’s nothing wrong with that. [But] the government took away the focus from the elderly people,” he said.

“The elderly people are still in need [of support]… We want to show the young people that up until you die, you still have authority. There is no stage where they can say, ‘You have nothing to do now, you are finished’.” DM

Daily Maverick’s Election 2024 coverage is supported, in part, with funding from the Friedrich Naumann Foundation and vehicles supplied by Ford.

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