It is midday on a Thursday in Acornhoek.
Mandla Ndlovu, the ANC’s acting chairperson in Mpumalanga, is on a door-to-door campaign at Ward 18, Timbavati C, with his retinue comprising about 15 members.
They pass two teenagers putting sand in a furrow caused by rainwater on their dusty street. They stop passers-by on the streets and hand over ANC T-shirts.
There is no resistance – unlike previously, when the Bushbuckridge Residents’ Association (BRA) was entrenched in the Acornhoek area.
That was when ANC leaders were verbally abused and chased out of some of the wards.
“Here, we are done with the BRA,” says a member of the campaign team.
They continue going house to house, motivated by the positive response they are getting.
All Ndlovu tells potential voters is: “I am asking you to vote for the ANC.”
The response is invariably, “yes”.
In one of the streets, a group of elderly women seem intrigued and stop to have a chat with Ndlovu and his team.
“This is Mandela’s party,” says one. “I will definitely vote for it.”
“And Cyril Ramaphosa’s,” Ndlovu chimes in.
“Yes, it is still the same party,” she says.
The women get their yellow T-shirts and continue on their way.
Violet Mkasi (65), one of the residents whom the team has visited, tells City Press that she has been voting for the ANC since 1994.
“They have promised to help us with a lot of things and they have done well so far,” says Mkasi.
Agreement Chiloane (37) expresses the same sanguine sentiments about the ANC: “They have been doing well since Mandela’s time. They will still do their best for us.”
On the same day, a powerful delegation of young leaders – including national executive committee (NEC) member Ronald Lamola and ANC Youth League deputy president Desmond Moela – is campaigning in Hluvukani, about 30km away.
The week before, Deputy President David Mabuza campaigned in the same Bushbuckridge municipality, at Acornhoek Mall just across the road from Timbavati, and at Bushbuckridge Mall.
Clearly, the ANC is pulling out all the stops to consolidate support here.
This is the area that cost the party a seat in the Mpumalanga legislature after the 2014 general elections – when voters chose the BRA, which was formed by a disgruntled splinter group of ANC members who were expelled in 2010, following ethnic tensions between the Tsonga and the Mapulana.
The latter group claimed that service delivery was being directed to predominantly Tsonga wards because ANC leadership positions in the Bohlabela region were occupied by the Tsongas.
When the BRA was formed in 2011, it won one ward in the Bushbuckridge Local Municipality: Ward 15 (Leroro) in Acornhoek.
It then grew to occupy a legislature seat in 2014 after amassing 12 208 votes in Mpumalanga and 1 043 votes in Gauteng. Bushbuckridge alone gave the party 11 700 votes.
In the 2016 local government elections, the BRA took five wards from the ANC and 14 seats in the Bushbuckridge municipality.
The ANC won 69.46% of the vote (53 seats), the BRA 18.09% (14 seats), the EFF 5.55% (four seats), and the DA 3.01% (three seats).
A NEW THREAT
The BRA is virtually dead now. During his tenure as provincial chairperson and premier, Mabuza had lured the group’s secretary, Cleopas Maunye, back to the ANC and made him his adviser.
And, during his campaign trail in the province a few weeks ago, Mabuza told ANC supporters at Nkomeni, outside Mbombela, that he expected the ANC’s share of the vote in Mpumalanga to shoot up to 82%.
This, after it dropped to 78% in 2014.
“It will go back to 81% or 82%. The DA may reverse, the EFF may go down, the BRA may not come back. So, as the ANC, we have enough opportunity to grab this space,” he said.
The BRA may not make as much of a dent as it did in the last elections, but there is a new threat: the SA National Congress of Traditional Authorities (Sancota).
Formed in February, the party is contesting elections, adding to the already-existing threats posed to the ANC by the DA and the EFF.
Founded by Mabuza’s now estranged friend, businessman Themba Sigudla, Sancota has been courting constituencies that most political parties have not been paying proper attention to, such as traditional leaders and healers.
Sancota has pledged to ensure that traditional healers will be brought into the mainstream of the health system and have hospitals built for them, and that traditional leaders will be given more powers.
Sigudla founded the organisation on a solid base – emanating from his organisation, the Practical Radical Economic Transformation of SA (PretSA), a nongovernmental entity that Mabuza endorsed when he was premier.
Sigudla is the president of PretSA, which counts unemployed youths among its support base. PretSA’s members also comprise former ANC members.
Thanks to Sigudla’s deep pockets, Sancota’s campaign strategy has been nothing but flamboyant.
Two top-of-the-range Mercedes-Benzes and a BMW were bought for Sancota’s leaders about two months ago.
On the ground, Sancota has bought water tankers to supply water to communities in Emalahleni, as well as 14 JoJo tanks and a grader to level streets.
The party has also adopted a church and offered food to its members, and has been donating blankets and distributing food parcels to the needy and destitute.
However, Sancota’s attempts at service delivery have been somewhat frustrated by the municipality’s refusal to give the party access to reservoirs to collect water and supply this to communities.
“We are aiming for 10 seats in the legislature,” Sigudla confidently said last week, “and if this was a local government election, we would win.”
Sancota is not doing door-to-door campaigns, but is instead identifying needs in the community and trying to fix them.
“Our slogan says: “You speak. We listen. We do,” Sigudla said.
Another small party hoping to steal some votes from the ANC is the Residents Association of SA (Reaosa).
However, it has not made any significant inroads since its formation in 2014.
Rasheed Matola, the president of Reaosa, has been busy visiting churches. “We have been focusing on the family. Our members are told to win over their family members to vote for the party,” he said.
The DA and the EFF have been campaigning hard off the ANC’s service delivery shortcomings throughout the province, showing nothing new in their approach to canvassing votes.
DIVISIONS OVER MABUZA
The ANC in Mpumalanga does not seem able to shed itself of Mabuza’s 10-year reign as provincial party boss.
Last week a disgruntled faction that was trying to have the provincial executive committee (PEC) disbanded had their case dismissed in the High Court in Mpumalanga on the grounds that the application was too late.
This faction believes that Mabuza engineered the formation of bogus branches that produced delegates to elect the PEC, regional representatives and eventually, the current NEC.
The faction has stated its intention to appeal the judgment.
Since Mabuza became deputy president after the ANC’s December 2017 Nasrec elective conference, the party in Mpumalanga has been unsuccessful in convening a provincial general council to elect a new chairperson.
This will now only happen at the next elective conference, taking place later this year.
As a result of these divisions, senior ANC leaders have been driving individual campaigns that boost their own chances when the time for an elective conference comes.
Peter Nyoni, who has been part of the faction that wants the PEC dissolved, complained about lack of support from the PEC.
“They don’t give us T-shirts or support us when we campaign,” he said.
Premier Refilwe Mtshweni, who is vying for the chairperson position, has also been doing her own thing by campaigning for an ANC victory with her own group.