Spectators at an African National Congress (ANC) rally in Khutsong on Sunday made no bones about why they thought Gauteng Premier Paul Mashatile came to address them in the party’s first rally since violence broke out in the township five years ago.
“They need the vote and we need to go to Gauteng. If they give us what we need we give them the vote,” said Tebogo Bogagsu (27), an unemployed resident of Khutsong.
The township rose to prominence for its violent reaction to the ANC’s decision in 2004 to incorporate it into the North West province. At the time, residents ran riot, burning tyres and threatening the Merafong municipality.
On Sunday, Mashatile came to tell residents the decision has been reversed. He said the township would be reincorporated into Gauteng once red tape in Parliament had been sorted out, which he said should be by the end of March.
Mashatile said: “Discussions have been held and two-thirds majority in Parliament have already voted for the return.”
He said the final step remaining was for President Kgalema Motlanthe to sign the Bill to officially move the municipality by the end of March.
“The Bill will be signed by the end of March so that the people can vote in Gauteng,” he said.
“We always listen to the cries of our people. When we feel a decision can be changed to feed [sic] the feelings of the people, then we say: ‘Sorry, we made a mistake’.”
His speech was met by a lacklustre response from the 2 000-strong crowd.
His calls of Amandla were answered with little enthusiasm and the residents did not greet him with revolutionary songs as is the custom at ANC gatherings.
He promised “toilets, tar roads and better policing”, which slightly lifted the level of excitement in the crowd.
After telling them what he would do for them, Mashatile named his price.
“Let us go in our big numbers on 22 April to vote for the organisation that always listen to its people.”
Again the crowd sounded unconvinced.
Only when Mashatile started up slogans with the name of ANC president Jacob Zuma — ngena Msholozi ngena (get elected Msholozi) — did they respond enthusiastically.
Outside the Khutsong stadium tyres were being burned to show Mashatile what could happen if he reneged on his promises, one of the rallygoers told the Mail & Guardian.
“They are burning tyres outside here because they feel these people come here because the ANC wants the votes,” says Bigboy Monama, a 31-year old minder.
“Now that they see it is elections they come and make promises. People came here to listen, not to show support for the ANC,” his friend, Edward Batman (27), concurs.
“People are fed up with the ANC, they love the party but people who are in the party, they make bad decisions.”
Boitumelo Leboela, an unemployed 25-year old, also believes the rally is held because “they want to win our votes”.
“We came here to listen to the speeches, and I might vote ANC now. But we are all still looking for jobs so we are volunteering for the ANC,” she says with her pink frilly umbrella perched on her shoulder.
According to Mashatile, while he was provincial financial minister he had instructed ministers to make provision for the incorporation of Khutsong into Gauteng.
“We have been working in anticipation [of the move], I told them they all should budget for Merafong to come back,” he told reporters after the rally. “Residents can look forward to improved service delivery, with more work for people, roads and houses.”
He insisted his visit to Khutsong, his first as premier of the province, has nothing to do with elections.
“Maybe that decision [to incorporate Khutsong into Northwest] was wrong, this has nothing to do with elections, it is about the process,” Mashatile said.
“Communities moved against their will”
Meanwhile, on Friday the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) claimed that objections to the relocation by 40% of Merafong municipality residents had been disregarded.
ACDP MP Steve Swart said in a statement that objections had been made by the Fochville, Kokosi, Greenspark and Wedela communities, which had always been part of the North West.
“We also need to realise that there are communities who were always in North West who are now being moved to Gauteng against their will just as the residents of Khutsong were moved against their will,” Swart said.
“It is disgraceful that a political decision taken by the ANC is now yet again being forced on all residents of the Merafong municipality again without proper and meaningful consultation,” he said.
“Difficult to effect changes”
Earlier this month, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) warned that votes cast by Khutsong residents in the upcoming elections would fall under the North West province if Parliament did not promptly come up with a decision on the status of Merafong municipality.
Briefing the National Assembly’s joint committee dealing with cross-boundary legislation, IEC chief electoral officer Pansy Tlakula said it would be difficult to effect changes once the determination of regional seats had been made.
She said: “Once the commission has made the determination, it may have any impact if the Bills are passed thereafter as the voters of Merafong would then still have been part of the calculation for the North West.”
The IEC was to make the determination shortly after Motlanthe proclaimed the election date.
Motlanthe announced on February 10 that elections would take place on April 22 2009.
“It is submitted that the Bills may have to make provisions for transitional arrangements if they were to be passed after the determination had been done,” Tlakula said.