As the polls opened on May 18 for the local government elections, one resident of Zandspruit, north-west of Johannesburg, woke up hoping this day marked change.
Standing in the queue to vote on a dusty dirt road in the township, which police have decided is a “hot spot” after violent protests there earlier this year, Prelicia (50) says her living conditions have not improved in the five years she has been living in Zandspruit, in a shack with no water or electricity, despite many promises of a better future by African National Congress (ANC) ward councillors.
She is convinced, though, that by giving the ANC another chance, they will live up to their promises. “Today, they will know we are still loyal and they will give us what they promised.”
She does admit that “housing is a priority and we really need water and electricity, but I won’t change my vote — since 1994 it has been ANC and it will stay ANC”.
Prelicia, though she would not give her surname, was one of the few voters willing to speak to the Mail & Guardian. The queues of people were trying hard not to pay any attention to the significant police presence in the area, but the low-flying military helicopters and nyalas — armoured personnel carriers — were hard to ignore.
In April, police arrested 16 people and fired rubber bullets during a protest against the lack of housing and sanitation in Zandspruit.
Large parts of Zandspruit have no running water or electricity. Most of the houses are make-shift shacks built from leftover building material and corrugated iron. No formal sewerage system is in place and rubbish collection is said to be a rare occurrence.
A little closer to the entrance of the tent where the IEC had set up the ballot boxes and voting booths, Colbert (30) waited patiently to cast his vote and expressed sentiments similar to those of Prelicia.
While speaking quietly to the Mail & Guardian he glanced warily at the police parked on the other side of the dirt road.
He said he was angry that ANC ward councillor Maureen Schneeman had been allowed to stand for election but said he was willing to give her another chance.
“She has got her foundation now,” he said. “She needs to build on it and give us those houses promised and the water and electricity.”
At the back of the line, two young women were not so forgiving. Charlene (26) was more cynical about re-electing the same people. “I don’t even know who our ward councillor was or who the nominees are. If they haven’t managed [to do anything] in five years, what could they do in the next?”
Her friend, Emelda Bok (24) agreed, saying, “[The nominees] only come here during election time, when they want to win your vote. After we vote for them, they forget about us. These people queuing here would be stupid to vote for the same people again — I am definitely changing [my vote to another party].”
Desperate to be allowed to take part in the excitement of the day, Moses (16) waited eagerly in the queue for hours, but when the electoral officer came past and told he was too young to vote, he sneaked silently away, hoping nobody would notice.
By 4pm, one voting station had seen almost 3 000 voters, according to a party agent. The organisation at this dusty veld office was efficient — most registered voters were directed to one queue; the elderly, and pregnant women and women with children were put in another, and offered water while queueing. As identity documents were checked, an IEC official chanted, “We must hurry, the rain is coming, the rain is coming.”
Another other voting station, at a clinic a few blocks away, had fewer cops present and hardly anyone queuing. A party agent said there was because the people who voted there were employed elsewhere and would vote later, after work — he reckoned only 2 000 of the 6 000 registered voters had come to make their mark but was convinced that from 5pm-7pm they would be “very busy”.
A bakkie packed with shouting people and a man on a loudspeaker, drove around encouraging the neighbourhood to vote and telling them to remember their ID books.
One party agent stood outside the venue, encouraging people to come in and vote, while at another table standing outside in the street, the register of voters in that area lay open to be scrutinised by people, checking if this was their polling station.
The residents also did not want the current Ward 100 councillor Schneeman to be on the ANC’s list of candidates for the elections.
Residents said Schneeman had not delivered on her mandate and their list of demands comprised the usual — housing, sanitation, refuse removal, rat-infestation control and facilities for children.
Policemen, standing around when deputy minister of higher education and training Hlengiwe Mkhize arrived at the polling station, began to step lively when she questioned them about their security plans for the rest of the day. Her black Range Rover stood out in the dusty streets, where groups of children and dogs ran around. Her visit was brief and after she left police went back to standing next to their vehicles.