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ROAD TO 2024 ELECTIONS

Residents of poorer Gauteng towns have mixed feelings about the power of the vote

Residents of poorer Gauteng towns have mixed feelings about the power of the vote
Aerial view of Skoonplaas community in Springs. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Daily Maverick visited a few of Gauteng’s less high-profile towns — Kliptown, Carletonville, Khutsong and Springs — and spoke to residents about whether or not they intended to participate in the upcoming elections. 

What does a vote mean? For some people in South Africa, being able to vote is the centrepiece of a vibrant democracy. They see a vote as a tool to have a say in how a government is shaped and public policies are formed — and as an accountability mechanism.

For others, a vote means very little as years of service delivery failures have left them feeling that democracy has not worked for them.

These sentiments fuel apathy and there will be those who choose to stay away from the polls on 29 May.

Kliptown

The Kliptown informal settlement is a railway line jump away from the historic Walter Sisulu Square where the Freedom Charter was signed in June 1955.

Its dusty streets are strewn with litter and the shacks are made of a mish-mash of materials. Dirty water — from residents’ use and sewage — runs through the settlement.

The railway infrastructure that used to be the most affordable means of connecting the community lies vandalised and dysfunctional.

Electricity is nonexistent; those with the financial means fork out about R200 for an illegal supply of electricity every month. Those who don’t pay are immediately disconnected.

In 2009, Siyavuya Cetywayo left his Centane home in the Eastern Cape for Gauteng with nothing but a bag and hopes for a better life.

His hopes soon dwindled as he found himself in Kliptown, Soweto.

Kliptown is the oldest residential area of Soweto. It was a squatter camp in 1903, but today is a mixed-use district made up mostly of shacks, formal dwellings and RDP housing.

“I had no choice but to stay and keep looking for employment,” said Cetywayo. He had left his wife and three children at home. The family relies on him to send them money for food.

“Life has been tough here, but it is even tougher where I come from,” said Cetywayo.

Unlike many people in the area, he still believes in the importance of voting and that it has the potential to bring about change for those who live in squalor.

“I would say everybody must vote… it is not about what you have or do not have — it is the right thing to do. Otherwise, the same people [in power] will keep on doing wrong things.”

Richard Faniso, Kliptown, Gauteng

Richard Faniso, a resident of Kliptown said: “Things are bad for us, but I still trust the ANC”. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Richard Faniso, born and bred in Mzimhlophe, Soweto, moved to Kliptown in 1994. He wanted independence and to start a family of his own, but the poor living conditions dashed some of these prospects.

Daily Maverick spoke to Faniso outside his tiny shack.  “This is not a good place to raise children,” he said.

Heading into the elections, Faniso was clear about his political allegiances. Wearing an ANC T-shirt emblazoned with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s smiling face, Faniso said: “Yes, things are bad for us, but I still trust the ANC and I will vote for it”.

Veronica Harrison, Kliptown, Gauteng

Long-time resident of Kliptown and senior citizen, Veronica Harrison (65). (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Long-time resident of Kliptown, Veronica Harrison (65) said there is nothing to look forward to in the upcoming elections as she lives in one of the forgotten communities in Soweto, despite the area holding so much historical significance.

“We don’t feel like voting any more because the government keeps on promising but doesn’t deliver. In this particular area, there are no toilets, electricity or a proper road. Others don’t have houses… They live in shacks which often flood when it rains.

“If I were to vote, what am I voting for? We have given up on voting because nothing will change any time soon and they call us pigs already,” said Harrison.

Opposite her house, on Union Road, a huge sinkhole remains despite the many promises made by the government to fix it and others along the street.

Union Road in Kliptown, Soweto

Union Road in Kliptown, Soweto. Community members complained about sewerage and litter that runs across the road. Community members also said the government has forgotten the area as the road has not been fixed. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Harrison said that when it rains, the area floods and they are not even able to leave their homes. Cars can’t even use the street. She says it has been like this for over five years.

“Our children are growing up in this environment, jumping and playing in this dirty water. Maybe the government wants one of them to get hurt or die before they act.”

Earlier this year, a teenage boy was reported to have been rescued from a sinkhole on Union Road.

Union Road in Kliptown

Union Road in Kliptown, Soweto. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Carletonville, Khutsong

Carletonville and Khutsong are towns in the west of Gauteng that are minutes apart from each other and bear the same signs of neglect.

Carletonville was once home to the world’s deepest gold mining shafts.

Today, mining activity in Carletonville has slowed considerably, leaving many people jobless and destitute.

Khutsong’s decline hits differently. Parts of the town are located on high-risk dolomitic land, making it susceptible to sinkholes. Several have formed in recent years, swallowing homes and sometimes even streets.

Election day resources

Carletonville and Khutsong are part of the Merafong Municipality, which has been placed under administration as it is unable to respond to the community’s basic needs of water, electricity and other services. It can’t even run its finances.

Residents of Carletonville and Khutsong are divided about voting and opinions differ over whether or not casting a ballot would make any difference to their lives.

Jeff Ramokgoatedi is a former ANC councillor in Carletonville. He joined the ANC shortly after the party was banned by the apartheid government. Now, he is considering abandoning his political home in next week’s elections.

“I doubt that I will vote or support the ANC. In the ANC, when you turn a blind eye to corruption, the party leaders will like you. But when you expose corruption, they will hate you.

“I am a veteran of the ANC and still a member of the party. I was in the anti-apartheid Struggle. I have been involved in running municipalities for years. I uprooted lots of corruption, especially in the Merafong Municipality.

“Corruption is the reason why this municipality has collapsed. Anyone who is tampering with the Bill of Rights, like the ANC is doing, is not fit to lead.”

Dieketseng Mafike

Dieketseng Mafike has lived in her home since 1970. Her home is on the same street that has been destroyed by one of the largest sinkholes in Khutsong. 15 May 2024. (Photo: Chris Collingridge)

Dieketseng Mafike has been a resident of Khutsong since 1970. When Daily Maverick visited her RDP home, she was sitting beneath a tree in her yard. Her front stays locked because of crime in the area.

She said life was bearable for the last two decades, but that the area was now in decline. She cited mushrooming sinkholes, cable theft and intermittent water and electricity supply as some of the most pressing problems.

“Things have changed a lot, but there is no service delivery and we live in fear day and night,” Mafike said.

Mafike was uncertain about whether or not she would vote next week.

“All that these politicians do is make promises but they do not deliver,” Mafike said.

Although she remained undecided about participating in the elections, she said she feared having to forfeit benefits such as her pension grant, an RDP house and job opportunities for her children.

Nontlantla Setlhodi, Gauteng

Khutsong resident Nontlantla Setlhodi is seeking alternative political leadership in the upcoming South African elections. (Photo: Chris Colliongridge)

Nontlantla Setlhodi, a mother of five, is one of many whose homes have been affected by the sinkholes. However, she said issues in the area went beyond sinkholes, as there was a lot of unemployment, crime, substance abuse and a lack of basic services.

“I don’t feel like voting because we have no trust in politicians. Whoever we decide to vote for can do what is similar to what the ANC government is doing — or worse. The ANC made a lot of promises in Khutsong but there is nothing to show for it. We feel threatened because we live in the RDP houses that the ANC has provided and now we don’t vote for them.”

Springs

Sprawled on Gauteng’s East Rand, the Springs area has long grappled with a myriad of pressing challenges, painting a vivid portrait of struggle and resilience.

From persistent crime rates to staggering unemployment figures that weigh heavily on its residents, the area has borne the brunt of socioeconomic hardships.

Moreover, poor service delivery looms large, often falling short of meeting the needs of residents.

Abandoned mines scar the landscape, serving as stark reminders of a bygone era while contributing to environmental degradation.

The air is heavy with pollutants, thanks to industries in the area, while water sources bear the hallmarks of contamination.

Sifiso Masuku, Gauteng

Sifiso Masuku, unemployed for a decade, expresses hope that the upcoming election will pave the way for new opportunities, both for himself and countless others. His determination to vote stems from his belief in the power of change through civic engagement. 17 May 2024. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Sifiso Masuku (29) from Pongola in KwaZulu-Natal, and a resident of  Skoonplaas in Springs, said he is anxious about the upcoming election and its outcome.

He said he moved from KZN to Gauteng in search of greener pastures. However, he has been unemployed for 10 years. Now, he hopes that the election will open up opportunities for him and others. That’s why he has decided to vote.

“I don’t like staying at home and doing nothing. I have a family that looks up to me to provide for them, but without a job, I can’t do that. Even the R350 grant, with the high cost of living, cannot sustain me, let alone a family of five.

“I first cast a vote in 2014, but then, at the age of 19, I did not even understand its importance. In my head, I had a belief that if you voted… that would increase your chances of employment and prove that you are indeed South African.

“As I cast my vote this year, I hope for a change and employment. Akulahlwa mbeleko ngakufelwa [we will never lose hope].”

Puleng Malatsi

Puleng Malatsi, a 28-year-old resident of Springs, plans to vote. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Puleng Malatsi is a 28-year-old resident of Springs who plans to vote.

Malatsi moved to Springs from Mayfield in KwaZulu-Natal in 2016. He is jobless and has voted in previous elections.

“I see a vote as a powerful tool to make my views heard about the government and to change it if I don’t like it. Where I live in Springs, there is no development. Maybe if I vote, the town will be uplifted.

“Springs needs electricity as we currently do not have any power. We don’t even care anymore about getting RDP houses,” he said.

“We don’t want to have children and then see the next generation suffering as we currently do. I don’t blame people for not wanting to vote. There is a sad reality of there being no change after we vote,” said Malatsi.

Emmanuel Khoza, Springs, Gauteng

Emmanuel Khoza arrived in Springs in 2016, from Benoni, another town in Gauteng. To eke out a living after struggling to find a job, he decided to set up a hair salon in Springs. He stressed the importance of voting. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Emmanuel Khoza arrived in Springs in 2016 from Benoni, another town in Gauteng. After struggling to find a job, he set up a hair salon.

“Life in Springs is hard but I try to survive by running my own business instead of doing crime in the area. It is important that I vote. There is no other way. I see voting as a way to participate in democratic processes.

I am hopeful that voting will maybe improve my life and improve the quality of life for people in Springs.” 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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