When Priscilla Josi was shot, ending up with 17 wounds in her right leg, during a protest against the lack of housing and basic services in Caledon, there was an outcome from the violence she did not expect: that she would be inspired to vote.
Josi, a 22-year-old who cannot afford to go to university, lives in Uitsig township in Caledon in the Western Cape with her mother, Elna Arendse, and her baby brother and sister. On Thursday 4 April she was running away from the police, law enforcement officials and private security guards from security company Agri Protection when she suddenly fell to the ground.
She rose to her feet quickly and in the rush of protesters fleeing the tear gas and rubber bullets being fired by the law officials, someone tapped her on the shoulder. “Your leg is bleeding,” the man told her.
Two pieces of metal were removed at Caledon Hospital, but doctors left the other 15 in her leg because they are too close to the bone and nerves. It is still unconfirmed what type of firearm was used, but the wounds suggest the use of birdshot, which is prohibited in crowd control. X-rays at the hospital confirmed that they are metal.
Josi was near the front of the group when chaos erupted. The protesters had wanted to march to the Theewaterskloof Municipality building to deliver to the DA-led local authority their demands for land, housing and electricity when the police stopped them. Josi previously thought her vote wouldn’t make a difference, but the anger she felt at the way she and other protesters were hurt has fuelled her to go to the ballot box come election day on 8 May.
“I had a change of mind, because of what happened to me. A person can now see who is better,” she says, sitting in the government-built house where her family live. “I’m still deciding who to vote for, but I’m definitely not voting DA,” she adds.
Josi says the DA-led municipality has failed to deliver to her community and others in nearby townships, who are in dire need of basic services such as toilets, housing and electricity.
Hugo Geldenhuys, the spokesperson for the municipality, said that while it has tried to keep up with the demands of a growing population in Riemvasmaak, a shack settlement in Caledon where not all residents have access to certain basic services, the municipality does not have the funds to install more services. The party is currently in a squabble with the ANC, which claims that the DA in the Western Cape failed to spend R1.7 billion of its allocated budget for housing.
At the same protest Josi attended, two young men – Jason Windvogel, 17, and Teboho Motselebane, 24 – were killed by live ammunition.
It is unclear who fired the shots that killed them, but an investigation by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) is under way to determine if the police, law enforcement officials or Agri Protection guards are responsible. It is being investigated as a murder case.
Ipid spokesperson Moses Dlamini confirmed that the police watchdog will be asking for statements from others, like Josi, who were injured in the protest. “Additional charges, such as attempted murder, may be added based on the statements obtained,” Dlamini said.
In the midst of the killings, politicians have flocked to the area to offer their sympathies to the families.
When the ANC in the region told Windvogel’s family that they were planning a memorial for the boys, Jason’s uncle, Barend Gertse, a former member of the ANC, had one simple reaction: “To hell with them.” Gertse says the only goal of the political parties swooping into town to talk to the family is to score ballot points.
The ANC has launched a campaign to find its feet as a sturdy opposition party in the DA’s stronghold province. It has a court case against the party for high water tariffs and party leaders have visited towns and townships around the province to gain support.
Some of it may have paid off. According to ANC provincial campaign leader Ebrahim Rasool, the party predicts it can get 38% of the vote in the Western Cape on 8 May compared with 26% in 2016. This, Rasool said, would be enough for the ANC to make a dent in the DA’s support.
The DA, meanwhile, is confident it can win. It knows it may lose some ground following a protracted fiasco that saw Patricia de Lille ousted as mayor last year, and a drought that led to the party increasing water tariffs for even some of the poorest families. Housing protests have increased pressure on the DA.
In the past month alone, five major protests have erupted in several important areas around Cape Town and in the Overberg region, including Botrivier, Caledon, Grabouw, Strand and Khayelitsha. Each of these have been glaringly visible because they took place alongside the major arterial N2 highway, blocking one of the province’s most important traffic hubs.
DA provincial leader Bonginkosi Madikizela has acknowledged that there are areas where the DA has yet to provide services, but says recent protests have been spurred by opposition political parties.
“This is electioneering. I mean, different people are flexing their muscles, hoping it will gain them votes before the election. Well, the government of the Western Cape is not stupid. I can tell you now, each and every protest that we have, I can tell you who’s behind it and the reasons behind the protest,” Madikizela said.
He claims the DA has evidence that the ANC instigated a Khayelitsha shutdown protest two weeks ago, and that the recently formed Land Party is responsible for the protests in the Overberg region, which includes Caledon. The ANC and the Land Party denied spurring protest action, but said they had been on the ground with community organisers to listen to concerns.
History of infighting
Caledon has a rich history of political infighting. Its first black mayor, Errol Tobias, a coloured man, was a former Springbok flyhalf who was also the first black man to play in a test match for the national team. When Tobias was removed from his mayoral seat after the ANC elected Abe Botha as its new mayor, he initially criticised his successor as having “sold out” coloured people.
Racial tension still lingers in Caledon and affects the way people are perceived to vote. African people believe that coloured people support the DA, while coloured people believe that their African neighbours support the ANC.
Gertse left the ANC after his friend and former mayor Dawie Abrahams was removed from his position following party infighting. He says corruption within political parties and the struggle for resources between African and coloured people have led to his commitment to never vote again.
“I’m a proud South African, but what is taking place in our land … the corruption. I’m watching news, I know what I saw on the news and how they took the money and our ordinary guys, we stay where we are. We not going any further. Here in Caledon, there’s a perception if you are black enough you will get a job. You will get everything. If you not black enough, you won’t get anything,” he says.
Once again making promises
Caledon protest organiser Richard “Timo” Douglas said the Caledon Community Forum embarked on the protest to raise awareness about how political parties don’t always deliver on their promises come election time. Douglas had seen election posters pop up in Riemvasmaak and got fed up with how politicians were once again making promises.
He said some people in Riemvasmaak who participated in the protest are members of political parties, including the ANC, but that the protest was organised in the spirit of community, with individuals encouraged to leave behind their party colours.
“There are individuals who have their own political organisations, but we are connected by the fact that these are community problems,” he said.
In Riemvasmaak, Monica Johannes sits outside her shack eating beans. Her greatest concern is that she doesn’t have a job and the communal toilets don’t work.
Just a few metres from Johannes, Motselebane’s family sit in his shack, grieving. Without him, they no longer have a breadwinner in the family.
Josi has watched as her mother struggled to fix the poorly built government house in which they live. As her two younger siblings grow, Josi hopes that through her activism and vote, they can have a better life than she has had.
“I just want the best for them. Everything that I couldn’t have, I want them to have,” she says.