It's not all black and white, says DA volunteer

Let me do the talking: Matlala Mabalane prepares to give her spiel to another household in Soweto. (Troy Enekvist, M&G)

Let me do the talking: Matlala Mabalane prepares to give her spiel to another household in Soweto. (Troy Enekvist, M&G)

THE BELIEVERS

At every door Matlala Mabalane knocks on, she is prepared to answer the inevitable question: Why does she want people to vote for the Democratic Alliance, a white-run party?

One resident put it bluntly, saying that she’d heard that DA members are merely puppets.

But 60-year-old Mabalane is not fazed – she goes right into her poetic sermon: “Do you know that Helen Zille was the journalist who uncovered the death of Steve Biko? She was fighting for the freedom of our people years before she was a politician.

“The ANC says we are puppets but that’s their way of making us scapegoats and then they don’t have to deal with the real issues. If you look at Midvaal everything is up to date, everything works there.”

As a volunteer for the blue and whites, she walks from house to house asking the residents about the problems they face.

Christina Mogaki (61), whose backyard in Meadowlands, Soweto, is filled with shacks that bring her an extra income, tells Mabalane that she has not voted for the ANC in years and she is looking to the Congress of the People (Cope) for change.

As Mogaki speaks of her children’s struggle to find work, the pressure this has placed on her family and how the ANC has failed to address unemployment, Mabalane removes her designer sunglasses. Adjusting her weight, using the kitchen counter for balance, she moves into DA-job-creation-speech mode.

“I’m telling you that many people don’t have the information about how the DA can change their lives and that’s why we are going door to door. Those food parcels that they tempt you with, you must take them. Never refuse. Eat the food and go and make the right decision in the ballot box.”

She adds that the DA only needs another five years.

Earlier that morning she gave her team of volunteers tips on how to deal with people, as they go door to door near an overgrown park.

This is her morning ritual where she imparts knowledge to younger, eager volunteers. “You can’t push people and you can’t make promises we cannot keep.”

Her view is quite simple. Ask the people what their issues are – whether it’s water, sanitation or the overgrown park – and tell them how the DA can change their situation if given one term to run, for example, Ward 43 in Soweto.

What she doesn’t tell people though, is how she once believed Cope was the party that was going to bring about these changes.

After three hours of walking the streets of Meadowlands the volunteers meet up again, either at the park or at Mabalane’s home.

As she waits for the group to gather she talks about her disappointment when Cope fizzled out. “I had high hopes for the party. I was one of the first to join after the ANC fired Thabo Mbeki.

“But the in-fighting started to happen and I was on the Shilowa side and so I left. After a while I started looking at which political parties can bring the change we need in this country and the DA’s manifesto and policies were the best for me.

“They truly want to change people’s circumstances. So in 2013 I joined and have been a volunteer ever since.”

Her community knows her very well. On her walks people approach her to inform her about everything, from burst water pipes and overflowing sewerage to incidences of theft at the park.

In her DA T-shirt and white takkies and without skipping a beat, she whips out her cellphone and speed dials the number of the councillor to discuss their concerns.

At her shebeen she stresses that she is not only a volunteer in politics; she has also canvassed for a Pirates branch in her area. “I love soccer and when they told me I needed to find at least 50 people to get a branch together, I did exactly that. That’s how a lot of people know me.”

At the Maboa household Mabalane speaks to a Pirates fan who was dismissed from his company for participating in an illegal strike, warning him not to be fooled by the Economic Freedom Front.

Sitting on one side of the small lounge, she bellows to the other side of the dining room: “The EFF will drag you all by the nose into the most despicable situations and leave you there. They act like they know what they are doing but they don’t. Your strike was illegal and it was not necessary. Look now, you are out of a job and they won’t help you get another one.”

Mr Maboa had no response and instead left the conversation in the capable hands of his wife Maria.

Mabalane fields every curve ball thrown at her. Sitting on a plastic chair in the middle of what used to be a garage, she confidently responds when asked why there is no proper park for children to play in.

“Did you know that the councillor was given over a million rand to fix that park yet he only put a fence around it and now it is overgrown and no one can use it. We could have used that money better.”

It’s just an ordinary day for Mabalane, and once she’s referred all the service delivery complaints her team has gathered for the day to the councillor, she heads into her shebeen to make sure her primary source of income is still running smoothly.

 
Athandiwe Saba

Athandiwe Saba

Athandiwe Saba is a multi award-winning journalist who is passionate about data, human interest issues, governance and everything that isn’t on social media. She is an author, an avid reader and trying to find the answer to the perfect balance between investigative journalism, online audiences and the decline in newspaper sales. It’s a rough world and a rewarding profession. Read more from Athandiwe Saba

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