Weary residents in the Northern Cape dump DA and ANC in the hopes that new leadership will help them live better lives, writes Poloko Tau.
Those closely following last week’s election results would have seen a curious thing – a bright red EFF voting district right next to a purple one dominated by the Freedom Front Plus (FF+).
Welcome to Ga-Segonyana, a municipality in the Northern Cape, where the districts near Kuruman were won by parties on the opposite ends of South Africa’s political spectrum. Just days after the elections, shiny corrugated iron sheets on many shacks were still emblazoned with EFF and ANC posters – bearing testimony to the fierce campaigning that went on before the polls.
An EFF poster that says “flushing toilets for all” remains on the precast wall of a government-funded so-called ventilation improved pit toilet at Vader Motlhabedi’s home.
His shack is one of the many in Promiseland; an ironically named informal settlement alongside the busy road linking Kuruman and Mothibistad.
Motlhabedi says residents of this 19-year-old settlement have been fed “empty promises” since people began living there.
“I have been promised a better life, better sanitation and all, but all I have got so far is a pit toilet that stinks. I am hoping for a change in government and a party that will take us from a land of empty promises to the real promised land, where service delivery will indeed not just be a pipe dream,” he said.
A short distance away in Kuruman, local businessman Mike Pieterse voted for the FF+, also for reasons that had more to do with service delivery and less to do with race.
“I voted FF+ hoping for a place for Afrikaans and culture, as well as peace for everyone. I will also be happy if we can have a crime-free town, a municipality that works and patches potholes, and not one that [has led to us] taking it upon ourselves to pay people to clean our town,” he said.
Both EFF and FF+ supporters play down any talk of racial polarisation in their district. EFF provincial secretary Shadrack Tlhaole said racism was “not rife” in the area, but the “struggle was still in the workplace in terms of salary discrepancies” in the mining, agricultural and trucking sectors.
“We have recorded some success where we managed to get one trucking company to pay their drivers R18 000 from a mere R3 000,” he said.
FF+ regional chairperson Billy Markram said: “There is no racial tension in our area and we’re living in harmony, but all we need is a good government.”
Pieterse also insisted that there was no racial tension, “even if the EFF has been saying it will take people’s farms. Beyond, that we’re all good.”
The EFF did well in Ga-Segonyana, its second highest-scoring area in the Northern Cape – it took 20.93% of the vote, doubling its 2014 performance. The party’s performance was only exceeded to the south in the Dikgatlong Local Municipality, which includes Barkly West, where it received 24.01% of the vote.
The FF+ also doubled its vote in Ga-Segonyana – from 0.8% in 2014 to 1.45% last week.
Tlhaole said Promiseland was “just one of the neglected areas in Ga-Segonyana where service delivery is non-existent”.
Motlhabedi (52) agreed, saying the ventilation improved pit toilet was the only thing he’d received from government.
“I last worked in 2008 in the mines and later came here in 2012 to erect a shack,” he said.
“Promiseland was established as an informal settlement in 2010 and we have been promised a lot of things. But to this day, we’re still waiting for electricity and only get water delivered in tanks once every two weeks. We’re a family of four and no one works. We’re dependent on odd jobs for our livelihoods and my household is not different from many others here.
“How are we expected to be able to afford water, which is sold by private people at R250 for 2 500 litres, and pay R250 for scholar transport because we do not even have a school here 19 years later?”
Another resident, Simon Sampi, who works as a security guard, said they were always told by municipal officials that their area was part of service delivery plans, “but nothing ever comes our way”.
Gotseone Batlhodi (26), whose family was the second to erect a shack in Promiseland when she was only seven years old, said it was not easy studying throughout her school career by candlelight. Her family of 11 shares a two-roomed brick house. Their only money comes from her mother, who works for a supermarket chain.
“It’s sad when you hear people complain about load shedding because, for us, the only time that happens is when we run out of candles. We feel like a forgotten community in Promiseland, so I decided to vote EFF with anticipation for change,” she said.
Tlhaole said they managed to double their vote in Ga-Segonyana because they were the closest to the people.
“We have been consistent and not only active around the election period,” he said.
“We have fought mining and trucking companies to pay better salaries and absorb workers permanently. At one point, we arranged for a patient who spent four weeks unattended with a broken leg and had her taken in our own cars to North West for treatment, and we continue to fight for better health services.
“The more we achieve in favour of our people, the more we are trusted.”
Tlhaole said his party aimed to “take over Ga-Segonyana and many other municipalities in the 2021 local government elections”.
EFF leader Julius Malema stopped by in Maphiniki village in Ga-Segonyana while on the campaign trail in March.
“The EFF has fought for residents of that village to benefit from land that was returned to the community. We’re generally worried about the acute water shortage in the municipality and, I mean, if people can protest and demand water, what about cattle and other animals that can’t talk?” Tlhaole asked.
On the other side of the municipality, Markram said they improved their performance by getting people who traditionally voted for the DA on their side.
“We’re Afrikaners and we want to protect Afrikaans and our culture, and we want to have more say on our cultural agenda. People felt marginalised, and the elderly people value their beliefs and would not want to hear about nine-year-old children being taught about masturbation.
“Our people are worried that some languages are on the verge of disappearing,” he said.
But, like Tlhaole, Markram’s argument went back to service delivery.
“If there is one thing I would change about the Ga-Segonyana municipality it would be the financial situation, the lack of accountability and to ensure service delivery for everyone.”
FF+ voter Pieterse said it was “only the politicians who were messing things up”.
Ga-Segonyana municipal spokesperson David Mabudi denied that water was only delivered to Promiseland once every two weeks, saying that “water is delivered almost daily”.
However, Motlhabedi and other Promiseland residents insisted this was not true.
Mabudi said work was still under way to bring water to Promiseland. Electrical capacity was still being built, with construction under way for three substations, one of which will be connected to Promiseland.
The area is built on dolomite rock, which was prone to sinkholes and was an impediment to service delivery, he said.
“There will be a dolomitic study in the area to determine how serious this could be, but there are plans to deliver services to Promiseland,” he said.