When President Thabo Mbeki entered the crowded lounge of the Xhola home in Despatch’s Khayamandi on Friday, an elderly man rose to offer his chair. But the president didn’t take it.
“We gave him a chair,” explained 79-year-old matriarch of the household Nonjenje Xhola afterwards.
“Then he said he is younger than that old man and he said he would go sit there on the floor.”
Which is exactly what Mbeki did, spending the next half-hour sitting on the linoleum floor, his back against a dresser carrying the television set and family photographs.
He listened to the problems of the Xholas and their neighbours.
“I was astonished,” said granny Xhola. “It was not nice that the president sat on the floor, but he himself respected the old man when he went to sit there.”
The incident came at the end of Mbeki’s punishing two-day election campaign in the Eastern Cape, which is one of the poorest provinces in the country and an African National Congress stronghold.
Throughout the two days he urged the people who flocked to see him to vote for the ANC and then work with it after the elections to address the problems of poverty and joblessness.
On Thursday Mbeki did walkabouts and visited communities in King William’s Town and East London and on Friday he repeated this in the Port Elizabeth area.
There he started the day with door-to-door visits in a squatter area of Walmer location, telling journalists afterwards he was “quite sure” poor people were not impatient with the rate of delivery.
He addressed coloured supporters in Helenvale in the city’s northern suburbs before moving on to a rally in the desolate Soweto squatter area, where he promised that the ANC would work for better housing.
“One of his audience, jobless Soldaat Dladla, said afterwards Mbeki had not promised to give everything the community needed immediately.
“But tomorrow and tomorrow, maybe Thabo Mbeki is going to do something better.” — Sapa