Last week, DA member of the legislature Makashule Gana and a handful of DA members stepped up their party’s campaign in a densely populated area called Swazi Inn, a community that derives its name from a popular tavern in Tembisa.
The area cuts between two metropolitan boundaries: Ivory Park township in the City of Johannesburg and Tembisa township in the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality. It is characterised by numerous informal settlements, a lack of basic service delivery and dilapidated infrastructure.
This was the site targeted for the DA’s final push to win over a support base in townships, with just days to go before the elections.
Gana told City Press that it was “disingenuous for anyone to suggest that the party was out of touch when it came to township issues” as the party’s leaders were “not boxed-in in terms of where they are canvassing for support”.
“I am also part of the party’s leadership. I may not have a title, but as a leader in the party, I am on the ground every day campaigning in townships. It is different campaigning here as one is readily confronted by the indecencies that communities are made to live under,” said Gana.
He added that if the DA was to win the looming elections, the party had to win over votes from people from all walks of life.
“It is therefore essential for the DA that it not make empty promises like other parties, but assure community members that should we be given the opportunity to govern, the party will prioritise their needs.”
Gana said when he joined the DA, “wearing a DA T-shirt was always met with deep animosity” as township residents always associated the party with “whiteness” and assumed, incorrectly, that voting for the party would automatically result in the country returning to apartheid-type conditions were it to win the elections.
“If you just wore a DA T-shirt and came to the townships, people would shout at you and call you names. But now we see more and more black people coming to the DA. Now the DA is being accepted as being part of the community.
“People making allegations that the DA is out of touch with township dwellers are not on the ground. I call them keyboard revolutionaries,” said Gana.
He was referring to a recently released ANC internal poll, which found that 42% of those polled regarded the DA as racist and out of touch with their daily struggles.
DA member David Modise, who was also on the campaign trail with Gana, told City Press that it was still a tall order for a black person to wear a DA T-shirt in townships.
“It still takes a lot of courage for a black person to wear a DA T-shirt. Black communities see it as a traitorous act of denouncing the party that delivered South Africa from apartheid rule,” he said.
The animosity that Modise described was readily demonstrated when the small group knocked and opened the gate to one of the houses in the community.
“This is an ANC house,” a person, assumed to be the owner, shouted, and asked the members to leave.
Another resident refused the DA members access, saying she was fed-up with politicians.
“The ANC has disappointed me and now you [the DA] want me to vote for you so that you can also disappoint me,” she said.
Modise said he stood by his choice to become a DA supporter.
“What has the ANC really done for us, to be honest? We are still living under appalling conditions and desperately need another option.
“The pity is that, instead of giving other parties a chance, township residents are choosing to lose hope in the entire voting process.”
He went on to echo the sentiments of the party’s premier candidate, Solly Msimanga.
Earlier in the week, Msimanga had addressed party supporters at Beyers Naudé Square, telling them: “If a prisoner is sentenced to life, then after 25 years they would be eligible for parole. South Africans should view their democracy in a similar manner: that after 25 years under ANC rule, the upcoming elections should be a means of attaining parole from the failings of the ANC-led government.”
Gana came prepared for this canvassing role, sporting leather navy blue-and-white Converse All Stars, navy blue jeans and a blue DA branded T-shirt and cap, as he embarked on a door-to-door campaign in ward 133.
The DA leader, born in 1983 in Lefara, a small village in Limpopo, was quick to remove his cap when addressing community members and switched from one language to another to accommodate all those he engaged with.
“Being multilingual counts as an advantage as it ensures that you are able to communicate with ease, especially in such a place, where you will find that each household speaks a different language,” said Gana, who put all six languages that he can speak to the test on the day.
Gana was a councillor for some years before moving to the national and provincial legislatures, and is still very active in community issues around Soweto, his constituency.
“Leading up to next week’s elections is about stepping out of our comfort zones and engaging all potential voters,” he said.