Mixed reactions to election day in Eastern Cape
The political affiliations of gangs in the notorious Northern Areas outside of Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape, could spark violence on election day and future elections but it is government’s response to the gang problem that is drawing votes, some community members say.
“I’ve heard gangs shouting ‘Julle is ANC, julle is corrupt [You are ANC, you are corrupt]’,” community member Andrew Saulls told the Mail & Guardian.
“There haven’t been any killings by gang members because of affiliations, but everyone has their party.”
At a recent distribution of food parcels in the area, gang members had complained to Saulls: “These Xhosa people, they are ANC, you see how they are getting these food parcels here, they mustn’t be here.”
The gangs had used this as an excuse to “go back and rob those people”, said Saulls.
Saulls, who is chairperson of the Bethelsdorp school governing body forum that represents 69 schools in the area, said elections time “is extremely divisive”.
“It pulls people apart and in a place that is already incredibly volatile with gang violence, this is very dangerous.”
He would be one of the attendants at his local polling station in Floral Park, a community in the Northern Areas, on Wednesday. He had been hired by the Independent Electoral Commission especially, he said, to “keep an eye out for any warnings of violence”.
Gang members “blamed the ANC for their place in life”, he said.
“For not having jobs, dropping out of school because they couldn’t read because they didn’t have good teachers.”
The 13 wards of the Northern Areas are all run by the Democratic Alliance (DA), said Saulls.
The education system was in “tatters”, he said, and the recent scandal over unpaid teachers and vacant teacher posts in the province would “swing votes big time”.
Last month the Legal Resources Centre in Grahamstown successfully won a court order forcing the provincial education department to pay R25-million to 32 schools which, because the department had failed to pay its own employees, had to pay teachers’ salaries out of its own coffers. The case was turned into a class action lawsuit so other schools in the same position could claim back money they were owed by the department.
“This vote this year is an emotional one. We’ve seen thick, thick, thick ANC loyalists wearing DA T-shirts,” said Saulls.
But he will be voting ANC.
“They have good policies, just bad implementation … I have hope it will change and I will help them.”
In Helenvale, a neighbouring community, trash blew around the feet of a group of about 60 community members huddled around local pastor, Samuel Davids, as he told the M&G that 40 people died in a “gang war” in March.
“Most of them were children,” someone shouts nearby.
“One child was shot in the mouth, the other was shot in the stomach,” he says, putting his finger in his cheek. The group, some of them wearing ANC T-shirts, follow his movements.
“Since the DA was here there are no services, no sports programmes to give the children something to do after school … it can’t address the gang problems,” he said.
“We don’t trust the DA so we are voting ANC.”
The group agrees shouting “Ja, ja, ja” over each other’s heads and the music blaring from the ANC office at the top of a flight of stairs nearby.
“The ANC has unit structures, street committees, it knows how to govern communities, that’s how you fix a problem.”
His ward, like the others, has a DA councillor, but this would change in the next municipal elections in 2016.
But on Wednesday this group of people from what Saulls calls the “bleeding heart of the ganglands” will vote for the ANC in the provincial and national elections.
‘Poor people’s interests’
Desira Davids, a social worker wearing an ANC T-shirt, said she was grateful for the ANC government because it has “poor people’s interests at heart”.
“It is bringing services closer to the Northern Areas like courts and home affairs offices … it also gives us start-up kits for food gardens.”
Charmaine van der Merwe, a community member, agreed, saying “that business with Nkandla … The ANC is not Zuma and Zuma is not the ANC”.
“The ANC put Nkandla out in the open, it didn’t hide anything, it will deal with Nkandla.”
Ward committee member Henry Sillis pointed to the corner where a four-year-old child was shot by warring gang members in 2011.
“I saw it happen here … it’s been a big problem and never as bad as it was this year.”
But last month Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa visited the area “and got police in here and since then there’s been no fighting, it’s been so peaceful”, he said.
“I’m going to vote ANC tomorrow, we all will.”