Political parties eye Soweto voters

While the ANC falters in its traditional stronghold, opposition parties look to take advantage.

One of the oldest shack settlements in Soweto is just around the corner from Orlando West, the neighbourhood of the late president Nelson Mandela. Up until late 2015, the settlement named Imbuzini, which houses about 300 people, only had access to one pit latrine and two communal taps.

Residents say that time is up for the ANC, with some hoping the opposition will finally give them access to running water, decent homes, sanitation and jobs.

As the 2019 general elections draw closer, the DA and EFF have their sights set on Soweto, which has traditionally been an ANC stronghold. Soweto’s population, according to Census 2011, is approximately 1.3 million.

Johannesburg has been run by a DA-led coalition supported by minority parties since the 2016 local elections left three large metros – Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay – without outright winners.

The Imbuzini community say they have been “forgotten” by the ruling party, and they’re now calling for change.

Locals hoped that South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994 would bring change to the 25-year-old settlement. But, they say, they are yet to see the freedom Mandela spoke of.

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Jeffrey Mashinini, 74, who is now a DA supporter, says the ANC has deserted the community. He has lived in the settlement for more than 20 years. “I just want a title deed so that I can be buried in dignity,” says the pensioner.

Despite disapproval and criticism from his family, Mashinini says he refuses to continue being “emotionally blackmailed” by the ANC. He says the party’s empty promises over the past 24 years have cost them his vote.

“The ANC only needs us during elections. They give us food parcels, T-shirts and desert us after winning,” he says. Mashinini explains how, for years, he thought he would lose his pension if he he didn’t vote ANC.

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Mashinini’s neighbour, Mannete Maoela, 43, blames the ANC councillor responsible for the settlement for not championing challenges faced by locals forced to live in congested tin shacks where sewage runs in the open and waste festers in the sun.

EFF’s half-a-million plan

The EFF is determined to secure 500 000 votes next year to end the DA-led coalition’s reign in the City of Johannesburg.

Musa Novela, the EFF’s regional chair in Johannesburg, says City of Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba (DA) has made some progress, but this is only due to the EFF’s support for certain motions in council.

“Soweto is the only place where the former liberation movement had some support and our focus is to ensure that we finish them off there and once we have finished them [DA] off in Soweto, they are gone forever, they will never come back”, says Novela.

Both the EFF and the DA have faced difficult periods recently. The EFF leadership has been linked to the scandal surrounding Venda Building Society (VBS), with the party having reportedly received more than R1.8 million from VBS.

This week, the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) said it will urgently seek a meeting with the leadership of the EFF. This after threats were made on social media and during various rallies, mainly directed at female journalists, by leader Julius Malema and others in the party’s top-flight.

During the EFF’s fourth birthday celebrations at Curries Fountain Stadium in Durban last year,  Malema said Indian people are “worse than Afrikaners”. Since then, numerous anti-Indian statements have been made in the name of the EFF.

Like the EFF, the DA has set its sights on crippling the ANC to become the majority party in Gauteng. “The objective is to win Gauteng in 2019,” says John Moody, the DA’s Gauteng leader.

According to Moody, the party’s election campaign includes 3 000 volunteers, who are hard at work across the province daily. Part of the party’s strategy is to ensure that more than 600 000 people in the province register to vote next year, a figure that will boost the party’s targeted 2.5 million votes in the May polls.

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Moody has come out in defence of Mayor Mashaba, who is facing increasing opposition to his often crudely xenophobic comments. According to him, the DA’s immigration policy will address porous borders and clean up the home affairs department, which he claims is riddled with graft. But the DA is also facing reputational damages itself, with infighting reportedly being widespread in the party in Cape Town.

Naledi Malefane, 25, says that the extension of working hours in clinics persuaded her to turn to the opposition. Malefane, who has been a resident in the area since 2015, say people are unemployed and desperate for a better life. “I hope the winning party will give locals sites and create employment”.

The EFF’s strongholds include Alexandra, Diepsloot, Ivory Park and Orange Farm, whereas the DA is focusing on generating a 90% turnout in white, coloured and Indian communities.

But while political parties vie for votes in Soweto, Imbuzini residents remain without electricity and homes.

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