Residents vs empty promises: Did the Alex Shutdown change their vote?

Voters queue to cast their ballots as night falls outside a polling station in Alexandra township in Johannesburg on Wednesday (May 8 2019). Picture: Mike Hutchings/Reuters
Voters queue to cast their ballots as night falls outside a polling station in Alexandra township in Johannesburg on Wednesday (May 8 2019). Picture: Mike Hutchings/Reuters

Alexandra residents have been active and vocal about their issues. But was it worth it?

City Press spoke to some of those who had taken part in last month’s protests, to see if they felt as through it had made a difference in the way they were casting their vote in the country’s national elections on Wednesday.

A few weeks ago the Alex Shutdown campaign had political parties scrambling when Joburg mayor Herman Mashaba found himself being pitted against President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Residents blocked traffic and burnt tyres in an attempt to be heard, and they vowed to continue protesting until their demands for housing, electricity and municipal services – such as refuse collection – were met.

The protest was heightened after Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba did not attend a meeting they held on Friday.

READ: Alexandra protest: ‘We had to burn things to be heard’

And Ramaphosa capitalised on Mashaba’s absence, challenging him to engage with Alexandra residents and promising them houses.

READ: Ramaphosa challenges Mashaba: Don’t fear Alexandra residents, come experience their conditions

But fast-forward to Voting Day, and residents say that nothing has changed.

“I have voted before and I realised that voting again will not make a difference because we are always promised the same things,” said Buntu Tsotso (36) who was outside the Vasco polling station in Alexandra.

“I didn’t vote because these political people always make empty promises … We vote for them they win and they forget about us, the people who put them in power. Right now I live in Alexandra, in a shack, but I voted before.

"Our streets are dirty and they smell so voting is a waste of my time because once those very same people I vote for come into power, they don’t give us the attention they needed us to give them when they needed our votes. So it is useless,” he said.

“Even if I changed the party I was going to vote for, it would not make a difference because all politicians are the same. They are using us. Once they are in power, it is all about them."

Election officials check documents as voters queue to cast their ballots outside a polling station in Alexandra township in Johannesburg. Picture: Mike Hutchings/Reuters

But Ramaphosa was on a charm offensive after he cast his vote in Soweto, and asked the country to take the ANC into their confidence.

“We know that as much as we have made mistakes, we have also been doing quite a lot. We have made mistakes. We are sorry about those mistakes and we are saying our people should reinvest their confidence in us because now we know where we have gone wrong,” he said.

Tsotso went on to say: “The Alex Shutdown campaign was a political game to try and fool us ordinary citizens. It was one party trying to try and show the other party ‘which I will not mention that you have done nothing for the people of Alex but we will win.’ They are just trying to get votes by causing chaos even though chaos should be caused by us … Because we are not happy.”

“Voting is useless because we are giving the very same people power. Even if those small and new parties win, they will do the very same thing and enrich themselves.”

Gladys Moroasethla (39) arrived at the Vasco and Ninth Avenue polling station in Alexandra after a long day at work but spoke to City Press and said: “My vote is my say and I had to make sure my voice was heard. We are tired of sitting at home and not voting and let other people vote while we don’t,” she said.

First-time voter Mpho Tshwane also expressed the need to have his voice heard.

“Now I have to do things differently because of the things that have been happening. I feel that it is time for me to vote, to bring change,” he said.

Addressing the media at his voting station in Soweto, Ramaphosa emphasised that the struggles of the South African people would be put first.

“We must hasten service delivery. I am saying I don’t want any further excuses, I just want to get to work at implementing our policies and doing what is right by our people,” said Ramaphosa.

During last month’s protests, one of the leaders of the shutdown in Alexandra, Mandla Mavundla, castigated political parties for playing the blame game “instead of making residents their priority”.

“On the one hand we have Mashaba, who has blatantly refused to engage with residents and placed the blame squarely on the ANC. Then you have the ANC, who first hijack a protest that we started and make it their own. Then they take advantage of the situation and make it a campaign strategy,” said Mavundla.

“As it is, Ramaphosa is making empty promises to our people just to entice them to vote for the ANC,” he said.

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