Breede Valley Independent party. (News24)
Worcester - With 25 years of council work under his belt, Ceraj Ismail, mayoral candidate for the Breedevallei Onafhanlik (BO) party in Worcester, says he is ready for the job.
He cut his teeth in the apartheid government's Coloured Chamber, where one day he and his fellow municipal councillors had had enough and chased the "facilitator" away.
"I told him: 'We are not deaf or mute. We can speak for ourselves'," Ismail said.
Once an African National Congress supporter, he turned his back on the party that had to unravel the knots of administrative apartheid-era discrimination to form the current municipal system.
He threw his weight behind the BO, or Breede Valley Independent party, which had posters all over the picturesque town, the seat of the Breede Valley Municipality.
It is perhaps better known for its wine companies, the grape treading festival, canoeing, being the home of KWV brandy, and the protective embrace of stark mountains.
Famous locals included former finance minister Trevor Manuel, who was born there, and Nobel laureate JM Coetzee, who spent some of his formative years there.
The demographics of the municipality made the forced removals of its coloured residents during apartheid even more absurd and inhumane.
According to census 2011, 71.9% of its 78 906 residents described themselves as coloured, followed by 17.3% white, 8.7% black, and 0.9% Asian.
Touws River, De Doorns, Worcester, and Rawsonville all fall under the municipality.
BO party leader Colin Wilskut claimed it was the only council in the country which threatened criminal charges that could result in a fine of R1 000 or six months in jail, for behaviour considered to be out of order.
Ismail said council meetings were long, but the only place where residents had a voice.
"But they give us only three minutes to speak about a document that has taken a year to compile. And then you can only speak once."
Working for the people
He believed the battle for the Worcester council would not be between the Democratic Alliance and the ANC, but between his party and the DA.
"Other parties work for the party. We work for the community. We work for the people, not for the municipality," he explained.
"People don't ask for much. They say, 'Give me a house. Give me work'. We [the municipality] have got the money, the waiting list, the ground. We just need the right council."
The town needed people who lived there and understood people's needs, not a party that took instructions from a national or provincial office.
In the 2011 municipal elections, contested by 11 parties, the DA received 55.1% of the votes, followed by the ANC with 34.7% and the BO with 4.05%. The Freedom Front Plus, which has objected to the DA’s call not to vote for smaller parties, got 0.52% of the vote.
Ismail won 51.2% of the vote in Ward 14, where his house, with its bright yellow trim, is situated.
Current Mayor Antoinette Steyn is running again on a DA ticket, after receiving 94.9% of the vote in Ward 6 in 2011. She posted a letter on the municipality's website, in which she said it had been a pleasure serving its people. Her face adorned the party's posters in the town with its wide streets and open drains.
The Economic Freedom Fighters has also thrown its hat into the ring in the town, hoping to attract younger voters. The BO candidates believed the EFF would only receive one proportional representation councillor.
But the party might have to keep an eye on ANC mayoral candidate Pat Marran, from a farm near De Doorns, scene of a farmworker uprising in 2012. During a visit to a labour rights workshop, the visibly popular Marran was surrounded by farmworkers sharing their troubles.
The child of a farmworker, Marran could relate easily to the farmworkers with his fast Afrikaans and empathy with their ongoing battle to improve their pay and working conditions.
Although it may have been freed from official apartheid, a decision by some in the town in 2015 to introduce a requirement that gardeners and general workers carry a green identity card to prove they were not outsiders up to mischief, provided a glimpse into the lived realities of many.
Writing on his blog "Constitutionally Speaking", legal expert Pierre de Vos said it was against the Constitution to limit people's freedom of movement.
Those behind the idea, the local Community Policing Forum, said the "Green Card" was intended to stop a spike in break-ins.
We spurn change
Another contender for the council is Nik Wullschleger, the chairperson of the local business forum and resident fundi on the environment.
"The mayor must understand, this is not her business, this is local government," said Wullschleger, claiming that councillors doing business with the council was not unusual.
He said the party had tried to get a copy of the mayor's phone bills to see whether private business was being conducted on the council line, but claimed he was told the phone system was broken.
The geology honours graduate said he had lived in Worcester for 14 years and one day looked up its motto, "Mutare Sperno".
"This means 'We spurn change'," he said chuckling. "Nice!"
He vowed that if the BO got in, things would be different.
"This is quite a radical party. This is about real change," he said.
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