Delays and unfulfilled promises in Diepsloot

Voters struggled to exercise their democratic right as power failures delayed polling stations opening in the Joburg township that, even on voting day, was piled high with rubbish.

On Wednesday 8 May 2019, Precious Ncube was ill and needed to get to a doctor, so she was first in the queue to cast her vote outside the community centre next to the Diepsloot Clinic.

“I have been here since 1am. I am cold and sick, and I was hoping to go see the doctor early today,” said Ncube, 54, with her grandson strapped to her back. She was wrapped in a bright orange blanket and wearing fluffy blue slippers. Ncube had been in line outside the Diepsloot polling station with dozens of other men and women hoping to vote early and head back home. But, by 8.30am, the station had yet to open.

“I can’t go home and cook food for my children because there’s no electricity. And now we are sitting here, and they are telling us there is no electricity here, so we can’t vote,” an exasperated Ncube said. “They are saying the scanner isn’t working. It’s not my problem. I woke up early to come here, and now we are sitting. They don’t give us answers. They don’t apologise, nothing.”

The electricity outage that delayed the station opening was neither unforeseen nor unexpected. It is something with which the residents of Diepsloot are all too familiar.

8 May 2019: Arriving at 1am, Precious Ncube was first in a long queue in Diepsloot. Polls only opened at 8.48am.

“We haven’t had electricity for a month,” said longtime Diepsloot resident Lehlohonolo Matthews Sebeko, 46. “We embarked on a strike the week before last. I was one of four people arrested for blocking the road. Four of us were arrested for electricity.”

As the lines outside the voting station grew to a few hundred metres, Sebeko became increasingly exasperated. “Other people have already gone home. They said they won’t be voting anymore because they’ve been waiting here for hours. I will leave at 10am if they don’t open,” he said.

8 May 2019: South Africans queue to vote in Diepsloot, a township plagued by crime and poor service delivery.

Confronting Diepsloot’s real problems

Sebeko and his friend Amos Hokeri, 41, said they would be voting for a party they believed could tackle the problems the Diepsloot community faced, among them a lack of services, poor infrastructure and intermittent and unreliable electricity.

“That’s the big issue here. We don’t have electricity, and now they pretend like they didn’t know about it. The electricity here was off yesterday but they didn’t make any plans, and now we are waiting,” he said. “I will vote for a party that can provide electricity and fight crime. The crime is bad here, especially for the people who go to the taxi rank early in the morning. They get robbed. They get stabbed. It’s very dangerous.

“Political parties don’t fulfill their promises. We are tired of empty promises,” he said.

8 May 2019: A power failure meant polling stations couldn’t open on time on voting day in Diepsloot.

Streets strewn with rubbish

The streets of Diepsloot were littered with garbage early on voting day. Only a few metres from the voting station, at the corner of Ingonyama and Pear Street, the rubbish was piled nearly waist high.

Sebeko said residents started dumping trash on street corners in protest over Pikitup not having been to the area in weeks. While Sebeko was speaking to New Frame, a Pikitup truck arrived, but potential voters blocked the road and shouted at the truck driver to leave.

Later on in the morning, Pikitup workers were seen moving heaps of rubbish left on virtually every street corner into plastic bags.

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Martha Maimane, 61, who was taking turns sitting on a small camp chair outside the voting station with her friend, said despite waiting for hours, she would be willing to wait until she was able to vote.

“I have to. It’s my duty. I’ve been voting since 1994,” she said. “We always come to vote, but we are still waiting for our house. They make promises, but we don’t get anything.”

Maimane said she would be voting for a party she believed could make Diepsloot “perfect”. “Look at that mess,” she said, gesturing at a pile of rubbish. “I must vote for that mess?”

8 May 2019: Rubbish is a common sight in the under-serviced township.

Manual solution

Almost two hours after the voting station was supposed to open, the officials, under the leadership of presiding officer Raseriti Winston Lerumo, decided to operate manually while they waited for a solution to the power outage. The station eventually opened at 8.48am.

Standing in the queue to enter the community centre, Lucky Radamba, 66, was clutching an old golf club in his right hand. “I walked far to get here. When I left my home, it was still dark. It is dangerous to walk outside when it is still dark because the nyaope boys will rob you,” he said.

Despite the crime, Radamba said he wanted to see Diepsloot uplifted and enjoy the development they had been promised for so many years.

8 May 2019: The Segeda family were up at 2am to sell hot tea, coffee, snacks and cigarettes to voters.

Minah Shabalala, 39, who was on her way to a library where she could access the internet, said she hadn’t decided whether she would be voting or not. “I have had no electricity at home for the whole month. I can’t write my assignment at home,” she said.

Shabalala, who runs a creche from her home, was taking a course in early childhood development. “If I can’t write my assignment at home, can you think of all the matric learners who are preparing for exams now? How must they study if there’s no electricity? I am not sure if I will vote. Even if I vote, these people, they don’t work for us.

“No one is trying to help us. They don’t come when we call them. We don’t even know the name of the councillor in our area, and now they want me to vote for them?” she asked.

8 May 2019: Botshelo Mvula, 3, waited in line with her parents.
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