One visit, one vote?

Heideveld is a community divided. Not just by the eight-lane Duinefontein Road, but by the fact that residents in the African National Congress-held ward 44 have seen improvements, while those living in the Democratic Alliance ward 46 have not.

“We now call our road “The Avenue” with all the trees they have planted,” smiles Ruwayda Galant, a 66-year-old community worker and ANC activist in ward 44.

There is a park across the road from her small, pink-painted house where on Friday nights the youngsters host soccer tournaments; Sundays bring lunch in the park.

Whatever gang graffiti there was on the walls lining the park has been painted over. “The people went to talk to the gangsters. We know the people and asked them to stop,” says Galant. “We must look after it … my grandson goes out every morning to water the trees.”

This civic engagement by residents seems to be key to the ward’s success — even though the trees, upgraded roads, improved street lighting and park occurred without consultation.

The local councillor, Vuyani Mtini, does not live in the area, seldom visits and “doesn’t really know what is going on, otherwise they would have built houses”, according to one of Galant’s neighbours who did not want to be named.

Still, Galant is convinced the strong civic grouping has ensured a level of liaison with the council not found in the other Heideveld ward. “They must come together so they can fight with the council,” has been her advice to the residents on the other side of Duinefontein Road.

Instead, it appears many residents of the DA-controlled ward live a life of hardship. The local housing office, which collects the monthly rent of up to R207 from the residents of the multi-storey walk-up blocks of flats dubbed “courts”, struggles for months to replace a door, even if rents are fully paid.

DA councillor Abduragiem Orrie is accused of inactivity. Last month, Orrie guided DA leader Tony Leon and mayoral candidate Helen Zille to the backyard dwellers in his area. While Leon and Zille concentrated on the plight of the backyard dwellers, Orrie got an earful from one resident.

Many photographs were taken of the shack in the yard of 71-year-old Olvera Arries’s flat. Her daughter Nazley Hanson, who has been on the housing waiting list for nearly 25 years, lives there with two of her three children and her husband. She was one of the people the DA leaders visited.

“He [Leon] was very nice. We don’t know if he will forget what he promised. Every time the election is over they forget. She really needs help,” shrugged Arries. The children suffer from hay fever and the toddler has chest complaints during the cold, wet winters.

While pregnant with her first-born, Hanson approached the council for housing assistance. She again asked for help while pregnant with her second child, who is now 12. Every time there was another excuse, says her mother: “She lost hope … every time she goes to them they tell her another story.”

But if a visit was meant to clinch a vote, the politicians may be disappointed.

A few doors down, Patrick Erasmus just shakes his head when asked about the visit. “The DA had Cape Town already. They had those sweet words before. But I don’t know where they are going.” But neither will his vote go to the ANC.

Around the corner, the open field is littered; it is one of many in the area where gang graffiti thrives. The “courts” are in dire need of a coat of paint, as are many of the houses and certainly the local shopping centre.

At midday, adults mill around outside the flats, an indication of the high unemployment rate in the area. Joblessness is also a challenge across the road and the political fence. But again the ANC-controlled ward has seen some benefits.

Galant’s neighbour was one of the women working for the local road-upgrading project, an Expanded Public Works Programme initiative.

But, when the project moved to Guguletu, the coloured workers were chased away. She says: “They told us it was their project and we must leave. But we didn’t chase their people away. There were no problems in Vanguard and Athlone.”

At R800 a fortnight, the heavy digging was worth it, although now she is jobless again her vote is not up for grabs.

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Marianne Merten
Guest Author

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