A tale of two cities on the Cape Flats

Marianne Merten

Voting is still a tale of two cities on the Cape Peninsula where just a busy highway makes all the difference.

In the coloured area of Bonteheuwel on the Cape Flats, residents spent election day at home, visiting friends and making the best of an extra public holiday in the little gardens where grass is gently teased from the sand.

Those near the voting stations checked out the queues before meandering across to make their cross. Bonteheuwel’s attitude was relaxed; as one woman joked: “Even the gangsters have taken the day off.”

Busy Vanguard Drive separates the tiny four- roomed houses of Bonteheuwel from the shacks and hostels of the black township of Langa.

Here the sentiment is different. At the taxi rank it is business as usual for the women selling offal, fruit and cigarettes to the residents in the rundown hostels. Goats and skinny dogs run across the roads. Taxis ferry their passengers to work. Trade at Ye YeE shebeen opposite the Langa High School voting station was busy.

Like the difference in their lives, attitudes towards voting also reflected the divisions. In Bonteheuwel there was widespread disgruntlement about the government, but also some support. Cyprian Hendriks cast his ballot for the Democratic Party because he’s worried about education and health. “Tony [Leon] is the man.”

At another voting station Patrick Kriger was waiting for the queue of around 35 people to “just get a little smaller”. He said he was voting for the future of his children. “I am too old, but my children have to make this new South Africa theirs.”

He’s not shy about naming his preferred choice – the New National Party – a choice many in the area said they would make. “I have been out of a job now for 10 years and can’t find anything because of my age [54], but I can still work.”

His friend Annette Johnson said she is worried about crime. Her grandson’s father was shot as he opened the door of his home. Her 18-year-old daughter is working, while she’s looking after the little boy.

Johnson says there’s not enough money to go around, but welfare officials told her she would only get help if she adopted the child. “I can’t take the child away from his mother,” she said.

Their views have not been swayed by the move of popular former NNP minister Patrick McKenzie to the African National Congress as a draw card for the party in coloured areas. As far as Kriger and Johnson are concerned McKenzie is a traitor. Said Kriger: “He could have told us at church on Sunday why he is moving. But he didn’t. Now he doesn’t come to church anymore.”

Yet clothing worker Geyaat Jabaar was voting for the ANC. “The NNP is anti- workers,” she said.

In Langa, people were wary when asked why they were voting. One woman, who did not want to give her name, said: “We want to be free.” Further up the queue, Vuyani Dledle spoke up: “I must vote. This is my country. I vote for work, an end to violence. It is too violent.”

At another voting station, Robert Makangela (75) said he came despite some difficulties registering. “I’m supposed to vote.” A better life was often given as the reason for voting.

At the local library, Zola Silwana said he was making his cross for jobs, houses and against crime – for a better life. “Especially in the Western Cape, the past five years did nothing for us. We want to prevent the NNP from ruling this province.”

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Gwen Ansell
Gwen Ansell is a freelance writer, writing teacher, media consultant and creative industries researcher. She is the author of various books, including the cultural history ‘Soweto Blues: Jazz, Politics and Popular Music in South Africa’ and the writers’ guide, ‘Introduction to Journalism’.

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