A number of registered voters living on occupied land did not vote after the Ekurhuleni Metro Police Department illegally destroyed and burned down their makeshift homes just two days before the national elections.
“I won’t vote. What will I vote with? I lost my ID and I lost my stock. I had started running a tuckshop here. I have nothing now,” shouted Sibusiso Buthelezi, 31.
Buthelezi’s income and identity card went up in flames and he is now surviving on handouts from the other residents of Steve Kau Village in Ekurhuleni, east of Johannesburg.
An overturned white bathtub and a soiled red carpet are the only remains of a shack that fell down after a few blows from a hammer. Outside a rebuilt shack stands a stack of salvaged corrugated iron while a mattress, blanket and Buccaneer school shoes burnt are outside the door of another shack still in the process of being rebuilt.
There is broken glass everywhere, and those who have not rebuilt are sharing a “community hall” and rationing food until they can stand on their own feet again. This is the sixth time the metro police have forcefully evicted them from the municipal land they have been occupying.
Tebogo Raluswinga, 34, alleged that this time the metro police came with the intention to burn.
“You have already damaged my shack, why are you now burning my things? Ah! They were throwing mielie meal in the blaze, those guys. I have never seen people do that,” a crushed Raluswinga said.
He has not voted.
“They don’t deserve it. I will not give it to them. They are losing it here. You will not vote for someone who does this to you. I would not be well upstairs to vote after this,” he said angrily.
‘Voting doesn’t change much’
Ntombikayise Debele, 48, lost her ID document, clothes, food and furniture in a blaze allegedly caused by the metro police. She said that although voting is important, she does not feel it changes much.
“I don’t feel good about this voting thing, I won’t lie because how can I vote without an ID and here they are destroying your things? You are trying to live but they won’t let you live … We have nowhere to go,” she stressed, adding that her family of four had slept in the open veld that same night.
Debele, who works as a food provider at the local school that doubled as a voting station, said getting a temporary ID was a financial burden she did not want to take on.
She said the violence meted out by the metro police remains imprinted on the minds of their children, who are often left traumatised. Her youngest son was leaving for school when they started destroying homes.
“Children are no longer able to learn at school from seeing what the government does to us,” she sighed. “A child cries at school, the teachers ask him what’s wrong and he explains that he saw police carrying guns and shooting … And they [metro police officers] don’t care,” she said, hanging up white school shirts on a makeshift washing line.
The shirts are from a social worker who distributed goods on Tuesday 7 May, the day before elections.
In need of votes
Ekurhuleni accounts for nearly a quarter of Gauteng’s economy and has more than 120 shack settlements. In Steve Kau Village, adequate housing, electricity and water are not yet available.
Although losing these voters may not be a blow to the governing party, the ANC needs as many votes as it can get to secure Ekurhuleni, which it won by only a narrow margin in the 2016 local government elections. Ekurhuleni is the only metro in Gauteng in which the ANC retained leadership after the party lost Tshwane and the City of Johannesburg that year.
The former industrial heartland is home to about 3.4 million people and boasts one of the highest voter registration numbers.
Despite still being something of a manufacturing hub, industry has declined significantly in the area, contributing to high youth unemployment. Much of the area has taken on the look of a poisoned, post-industrial wasteland.
Mayor Mzwandile Masina has spoken about revitalising industry and increasing small, medium and micro enterprises development. But for the moment this is all just talk and many people in the metro, particularly the young, remain unemployed.
In the early, nippy hours of election day, Umshini Wami and struggle songs such as Zizojik’ izinto (things will turn around) could be heard wailing through the streets of Barcelona, another shack settlement in Ekurhuleni. A jovial mood was in the air.
A number of elderly women wore ANC doeks, DA shirts, bodies wrapped in the South African flag. Some say their vote went to the ruling party because it helped them escape white rule.
After voting, an elderly woman with a walking stick said she still has faith that the ANC can make a difference.
“Even if they don’t change things for me, I know they will change things for my children or my children’s children,” she said.
Precious Dube, a 39-year-old unemployed mother of three from Nelspruit, voted but said she is concerned about the lack of jobs. She added that government must intervene to bring retrenchments to an end.
“If they retrench the men from work, the future of our children becomes bleak. What becomes of those children? Do you see this thing? It’s poverty, it’s reality,” she shrugged.
Her fear is that her husband, a retrenched plumber in Benoni, will lose his work again. Jobs are scarce so he works a 12-hour day, leaving at 6.30am and returning at 7pm so they can raise three children and pay their R1 500 rent for an RDP house.
“If he as the breadwinner dies, where will I get the money for rent? Can you imagine how I will feel? What will I do?” she said.
Dube voted but questioned how politicians can sleep at night when people lose their jobs and go to sleep hungry so often, adding that they cannot make empty promises to people “life is not fair to”.
Dianna Masuku, 46, has worked as a domestic worker for the same family for 13 years. Standing in the queue to vote, Masuku said that although she is disappointed in the corruption and crime levels, she woke up at 6am to make her mark.
Masuku said voting has improved things for her. She got a title deed in 2012 and she is happy that her children have access to a decent education. She did not consider election day as a day off; rather, she wanted the queue to go quickly so she could do her washing.
“A mother never has a day off. There is always work to be done because you have no other days off. When I am done here, I am going back home to clean my own house,” she said, shivering in the morning cold.
Ellen Kgogolo, 64, said she voted because she wants a house with electricity, something she thought she would get in 1996 after putting her name down on a housing list. She has been using R700 of her R1 700 a month grant money to pay rent.
“Will I be buried at another person’s house? Will I leave my children out in the streets?” she asked, revealing her fears about ageing without owning a house.
She said her vote remained unchanged.
“I keep telling myself things will get better,” she said, her head dropping.
A working day for some
Although President Cyril Ramaphosa declared election day a public holiday, some employers made their employees work, prompting trade unions to condemn their actions. For some migrants working in the hair industry, election day meant more customers keen to take advantage of the day off.
At a local salon in the mall opposite a new housing development in Mayfield, Daveyton, the Nigerian and Ghanaian women working there said they were expecting the salon to fill up after lunchtime.
“It is still a public holiday to some, so because we are not voting, we must work. People still want to do their hair and we must make money,” said Elizabeth*.
At a voting station in Barcelona, Electoral Commission presiding officer Ntombizanele Mthabela told New Frame that a few migrants had attempted to vote but were turned away.
*Not her real name.