Bekkersdal - As he stood in the voting booth last week, pensioner
Mokayile Maraba agonised long and hard over whether to vote for the ANC, who he
has supported all his life.
Twenty years after the end of apartheid, the retired
civil servant still lives in a run-down tin-shack township that lacks
electricity or decent sewers, despite the ANC's promise to build a “better life
But ultimately it was the memory of a racist incident he
suffered 60 years ago that ensured his continued allegiance to the late Nelson
Mandela's former liberation movement.
Maraba, 73, remembers how, after he was bitten by a dog,
the white owner showed no remorse because the victim was black, an example of
the discrimination meted out on a daily basis to non-whites under apartheid.
"I will never forget that day. I know what apartheid
means, because I grew up under apartheid. I have lived that word," he told
Reuters outside his home in Bekkersdal.
"When I think about voting for another party and
abandoning the ANC, those memories come back to haunt me," he added.
Maraba's thinking - in which the painful memories of
decades of racial oppression outweigh the privations of the present day - is
widespread, and helps explain why the ANC's popularity is so resilient.
Nationwide, it won 62% of the vote in the 7 May election,
but in Bekkersdal, which has been rocked by a series of violent protests over
poor public services in the last six months, it was 68%.
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the DA garnered
about 11% each.
Moses Sithole, a shop owner, is baffled that the ANC
still enjoys so much support when he looks around at the derelict shacks, dusty
roads and gangs of unemployed youths hanging around on street corners.
"There is really nothing that the ANC is doing to
improve this place. Look at this," Sithole said, pointing to a stream of
raw sewage flowing past his shop.
"It has been like this since we gained freedom in
1994. I don't see anything changing. We are waiting for the violence to flare
up again," he said.
While life for many blacks has improved since Mandela
became president in 1994, critics say ANC under President Jacob Zuma has done
little to improve the lot of the millions still crammed in poorly serviced
One more chance
Many Bekkersdal residents initially vowed to boycott the 7
May election after provincial Premier Nomvula Mokonyane, when addressing
disgruntled residents after violent unrest, said the party did not need their
But ultimately, they gave the party another chance, and
the ANC secured another thumping majority.
"The persistence of 'racialised' voting patterns is
unsurprising, given history and the persistence of apartheid's special planning
and economic, demographic and cultural disparities in the present day,"
said independent analyst Nic Borain.
"However, there may be just enough voter
admonishment implicit in the ANC's loss of 15 National Assembly seats and the
more dizzying drops in the major metropolitan areas to cause the party to
attempt a clean-up of the behaviour of some of its top leaders."
Zuma, dogged by controversy over a multi-million rand state-funded
upgrade to his private rural home, promised at the weekend to create jobs and
ramp up infrastructure projects, even as the government dispatched soldiers to
quell post-election unrest in Alexandra.
Another five years of unfulfilled promises by Zuma's
in-coming government might not go unpunished at the next elections in 2019,
warned Maraba's unemployed daughter Elizabeth as she contemplated a bleak
future in Bekkersdal.
Elizabeth is fast losing patience with the ANC and, at only
24, does not have the kind of memories that help her father to overlook the
ruling party's failings.
"We want jobs, we want developments, and they must
fix the sewers around here," she said, visibly agitated. "We are
tired of being taken for granted.