/ 15 April 2011

‘ANC let us down,’ says community

'anc Let Us Down

The usually animated Ntombizanele Sopeki broke down and cried when members of her impoverished community in Knysna begged her at the eleventh hour to stand as an independent candidate in the May 18 municipal elections.

“I will live and die for the ANC. It really hurt me to do what I had to do,” the 33-year-old mother of three told the Mail & Guardian this week.

“The party can’t expel me because I had to resign to stand as an independent in the elections. We just had to show the ANC it must listen to our complaints. “They said they would come to Knysna to hear us out, but they didn’t. I didn’t want to leave the ANC, but I had no choice. The ANC let us down big time.”

The journey that brought her to this momentous decision began with a hot, exhausting, five-hour taxi trip to Cape Town last month with fellow members of Knysna’s Duma Nokwe ANC branch.

The 28 community members went to meet the ANC provincial executive committee to protest that it could not replace the candidate the community had chosen with one it did not support.

Riot police ran into the building when the ANC offices were vandalised by members of disenchanted Cape Town communities upset by changes to the ANC list of municipal candidates. The Knysna group steered clear of the turmoil, standing outside the offices in the shade as it waited its turn to talk things out.

Sopeki was visibly agitated when she pointed to a hand-written poster that named her branch’s chosen candidate, Victor Molosi, as a “born leader” and condemned the person chosen by the ANC, Welcome Salaze, as a “fake”.

Unfailing support
Pointing to her delegation, one of whom wore lace-up shoes that appeared to be a size too big for him, Sopeki explained that many had sacrificed their savings to make the trip. Most sported ANC T-shirts to show their unfailing support of the ruling party. “We are a poor community. There is high unemployment in our area. But we collected money for this trip and we shared what food and cool drinks we had,” she said.

“We felt strongly about speaking to the provincial executive committee about our complaint. We had to be heard.” After a tumultuous day at the ANC offices in the city, the close-knit group boarded the two taxis they had hired for the long trip home.

Sopeki said that at their general meeting most of the 3 000 members of the Duma Nokwe branch had voted for Molosi, a popular ward councillor since 2006. “Under Molosi, we got new low-cost houses. Until he came along we were all living in shacks. He is a born leader, and we all love him,” said Sopeki. “We are living as we are now and not in shacks only because of him.”

Back in Duma Nokwe many members of the community waited for someone from the ANC to come and talk to them, as Sopeki claimed the party had promised to do in the three days before the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) shut its doors on the registration of candidates for the elections. Provincial secretary general Songezo Mjongile could not be reached for comment.

“We waited and waited. We phoned them and the ANC provincial leaders promised to come and hear our complaint, but nobody showed up,” said Sopeki. “We all gathered in Thembelitsha primary school to hear them out. Still nobody came.”

Slate politics
The community first asked Molosi to stand as an independent. “We tried hard to get him to stand as an independent so he could carry on working for us,” said Sopeki. “But he wouldn’t. He is a disciplined ANC member.”

Some view Molosi as a supporter of former ANC provincial chairperson Mcebisi Skwatsha, the rival to the new chairperson of the Western Cape ANC, Marius Fransman. But Molosi told the M&G he would support whoever the ANC decided should stand and vote for that person.

Others in the community see Molosi as a victim of the “slate” politics that have characterised provincial ANC elections in the Western Cape.

“I could not stand as an independent, as I am a disciplined member of the ANC and I will serve the party and stand by its decision,” Molosi told the M&G. “It is a hard time for my supporters, but I have not wavered in my support for the decisions taken by the ANC.”

When Molosi could not be persuaded to stand as an independent, the community turned to the naturally outspoken Sopeki, whose late father, Martin Singaphi, had been a Cosatu and South African National Civic Organisation leader in the area.

Shortly before the IEC closed its doors Sopeki rushed around filling in forms, collecting the R1 000 she said she had to gather to register, and waited in a long queue to get the bank-guaranteed cheque that was required. During the rush to meet the deadline she received a call from her husband to tell her that the police had been around to their home to warn her that her life was in danger.

“I was told somebody was coming to kill me, but even that did not put me off. I had to do something. We are mostly a coloured community. But the man the ANC placed on the list as a candidate in our area cannot speak Afrikaans and he speaks broken English. His language is Xhosa, which most of us don’t speak,” said Sopeki.

“We accepted him in our community, but we don’t accept him as our leader.” Members of the community worry that the candidates who have been put on the list to replace those chosen by the community could have been favoured because they may be able to influence business and tender decisions at municipal level.

Salaze, the man selected as the candidate for the area on the ANC list, is the chairperson of the Duma Nokwe branch. He told the M&G that he was not worried by the “silly talk” and believed that he was the best man for the job.

“I am always a winner. But it is always like this, as not everybody will support one candidate,” he said. “I expect to win as I do have a lot of support. National and provincial leaders are coming down here for a rally in the community this Sunday and I am looking forward to it.”

Sopeki said the source of the money she is receiving to support her election campaign is her secret. “We need money to electioneer, but I can’t tell you where it is coming from,” she said. “It has to stay a secret. I feel confident I could win as an independent.”

Her entire family, including her husband, Samkelo Sopeki, a security guard in Knysna, has now thrown its weight behind her campaign. It was a hard decision, said the woman who started attending ANC meetings when she was 16 years old. But she said she hoped to rejoin the ANC one day and begin paying membership fees again.