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ANC deploys big guns into battle for Groutville, hometown of Chief Albert Luthuli

ANC deploys big guns into battle for Groutville, hometown of Chief Albert Luthuli
Groutville, north of Durban, on 9 May 2024. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

With KwaZulu-Natal shaping up to be the province most vulnerable to Jacob Zuma’s MK party, the ANC has gone on the offensive in the symbolically important Groutville.

The scramble for votes is fierce in this peri-urban town nestled among rolling sugar cane farms 70km north of Durban.

Groutville holds both historical and symbolic significance, especially to the ANC, as it was the hometown of  Chief Albert Luthuli, a former party president and Nobel laureate.

On Sunday, the area saw former president Thabo Mbeki visiting a local church and going on an electioneering walkabout, urging people to vote for the ANC. He also laid a wreath at Luthuli’s grave.

The last time Mbeki was here was at the height of his presidency when, in August 2004, he opened the Luthuli Museum built inside the home of Africa’s first Nobel Peace Prize winner.

The Luthuli Museum, on Groutville’s Nokukhanya Luthuli Street (named after Luthuli’s wife), is now a cultural centre of the community. It is often full of young people researching and learning about the history of the country. The centre regularly hosts workshops, and the Luthuli Legacy Walk and Fun Run is an annual commemorative event organised by the museum.

This was not the first time Groutville had hosted top politicians – in June 1966 US Senator Robert Kennedy flew into the town by helicopter, landing on the local soccer field, so that he and his wife Jackie could speak to Luthuli who had been banished to the area by the apartheid regime. 

A picture of Chief Albert Luthuli and senator Robert F Kennedy in the Luthuli Museum in Groutville. (Photo: Luthuli Museum)

Groutville

An exhibition of Chief Albert Luthuli and Robert F Kennedy in the Luthuli Museum. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

A photograph of Chief Albert Luthuli and Robert Kennedy at the museum in Groutville. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

A photo of the Kennedy/Luthuli meeting is displayed in the museum on the original table where the two sat for coffee while discussing the challenges posed by apartheid.

Many believe it was this meeting that enraged apartheid apparatchiks and may have led to Luthuli’s untimely demise.

Just over a year after that visit, on 21 July 1967, Luthuli died under questionable circumstances. An inquest by the regime concluded that he had been hit by a train on his way back from the shop while crossing the railway track. Luthuli’s family has been calling for a fresh inquest into his death.

Groutville governance 

Groutville sits at the heart of the KwaDukuza local municipality, which has its headquarters in KwaDukuza town (formerly known as Stanger).

KwaDukuza is one of four municipalities – the others are Maphumulo, Mandeni and Ndwedwe – that form the larger iLembe District Municipality, serving as the seat for both municipalities. 

The challenges faced by all four municipalities include high rates of unemployment and corresponding levels of poverty.

The racial make-up of the population of KwaDukuza Local Municipality is African 78.8%; Indian 14.1%; white 5.6% and coloured 1%.

The ruling party has dominated elections in the area since 1994. However, the ANC secured only 49.56% of the vote in the 2021 local elections, down from 62.76% in 2016 and short of the 50% needed for council control. 

The ANC had to rely on the single seats obtained by the African Transformation Movement and the African Independence Congress to retain control of the municipality.

Despite its shortcomings elsewhere in KwaDukuza, the ANC has been able to hold on to Groutville’s Wards 10, 11 and 12.

Groutville

Portraits of Chief Albert Luthuli at the museum in Groutville, north of Durban, on 9 May 2024. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

An exhibition of Chief Albert Luthuli in the museum in Groutville. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

‘We cannot lose hope’

Daily Maverick visited Groutville three days before Mbeki’s arrival. Being mid-morning on a Thursday, 68-year-old Busi Sithole was one of five women clad in white blouses and black skirts heading to the local Anglican Church for their weekly meeting.

She said she had lived in Groutville all her life and faintly remembers Luthuli, “but I was still very young when he died”.

She said she remembers that, as a young girl, “Groutville was surrounded by sugar cane farms. Now things are different. The area has grown and developed. There are still many challenges, new challenges. For example, our children, even those who have graduated from universities, don’t have work. 

Chief Albert Luthuli poses for a photograph with his wife Nokukhanya, daughter Albertina and grandson Motsumi in October 1961. (Photo: Luthuli Museum Family Collection)

Chief Albert Luthuli ’s house in Groutville. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

“As the elderly, we have to use our pensions to feed our children who can’t find jobs. Also, the incidents of crime have increased. We also have a problem with water shortages and when there is load shedding, our food rots in the fridges. We are breathing a sigh of relief that we have had uninterrupted electricity for more than a month,” she said.

“But we cannot lose hope and we will vote in the hope that our voting will usher in a leadership that will take care of us and deal with these challenges, especially job creation,” said Sithole.

We also met a man carrying his four-year-old daughter on his shoulders as he walked down the main street leading to KwaDukuza’s CBD. They were on their way home from the local clinic. He declined to give his name, saying he was afraid because some people who had complained about councillors had been attacked. He knew of one critic who was shot and killed.

Kate Sibiya, Ziziwe Khuzwayo, Busi Sithole and Thokozile Nyongo walk home from a church service in Groutville on 9 May 2024. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

“My daughter has developed a rash so today I decided to take her to the clinic. I was there from 7am until I left at 1.45pm without having received any assistance or medication. The nurse said she is working alone and has to attend to pregnant women and other patients all by herself. She said we must come back tomorrow,” he said.

He said that during the April 2022 floods, his home was among those that were swept away.

“Four rooms collapsed and we had nowhere to stay. We have never had any assistance from the local municipality. They just came a few months ago and handed us 20 zinc sheets. What can you do with these sheets? We just started building with blocks, from our own pockets, although we heard that funds for flood victims were given to the municipality. 

“When you talk about these things, you could end up dead,” he said.

Groutville resident and artist Bheki Ngwenya says he supports MK because the ANC government has failed his community, especially young people. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Mncedisi Masinga (45) owns the only internet café in Groutville. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Political parties and campaigns

On the same day, a group of ANC members were singing Struggle songs, waiting for a taxi at Groutville’s Dube Village (Ward 12) to take them to a mini-rally in KwaDukuza, where ANC leaders were due to speak.

Nqubeko Dube, 32, a local ANC Youth League leader, said he was confident that his party would win with a huge majority not only in Groutville but also in KwaDukuza Municipality, KwaZulu-Natal and nationally.

“Here in Groutville, there are a few unhappy people. But on the whole, the ANC remains strong because the party has performed very well. This whole area was surrounded by sugar cane farms, but now you can see people have beautiful houses. 

“We are not scared of the opposition parties because the ANC has worked well and we will continue to do so,” he said.

Election posters in Groutville on 9 May 2024. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Election posters in Groutville. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

His sentiments were not shared by Mncedisi Masinga, the 45-year-old owner of the only internet café in the area. Masinga wore a South African National Civic Organisation (Sanco) shirt and an uMkhonto Wesizwe (MK) cap. 

Former president Jacob Zuma was elected Sanco’s KZN chairperson in November 2023. However, when he deserted the ANC and formed MK, Sanco expelled him from the organisation and threw its weight behind the ANC. 

Masinga said he was one of the MK organisers in Groutville.

Nokukhanya Nxaba at the Luthuli Museum in Groutville. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Nokukhanya Nxaba next to a stove of Chief Albert Luthuli in the museum in Groutville. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

“There are many people who are gatvol with the ANC in this area and they have indicated that they will vote for the MK party this time around. ANC leaders locally, provincially and nationally, have lost their conscience. They steal without batting an eye. 

“We want the MK party to take over so that it can change the Constitution and take back our land and economy from the whites. 

“If you don’t believe me when I say the MK party will win, wait until after the elections,” he said. 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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