'We are living like monkeys on the rocks'

A black BMW plastered with ANC posters negotiates its way around a giant pothole. In Balfour’s Siyathemba township potholes are part of the scenery.

Two young men stand by the side of the road, watching the car as it disappears in a cloud of dust. “You see what they drive?” asks one.
“Fikile Khumalo drives the same BMW, while people are hungry.” Khumalo is the ANC’s candidate for ward councillor in the township’s Joe Slovo section. She is up against independent candidate and ANC defector Mafunda Makhubu, who is something of a local hero.

“He has made sure we have electricity and toilets. He even helps financially during funerals. We want him in our ward,” says local resident Maria Madi.

Fellow resident Thabiso Makhalimeli explains that Makhubu was initially nominated by the community as an ANC candidate, but was later dropped by the ruling party because “he exposed their corruption”. When he decided to fight the election as an independent he took many supporters with him. “He lives in a two-room house,” says Makhalimeli. By now it is 7am. A few elderly residents are making their way off to the polling station at Bonukukhanya Primary School .

For others, May 18 is just another public holiday; chance to catch up with their laundry or visit the clinic, not necessarily a day to cast their ballots. “My ID has a lot of stamps from voting,” says one woman, explaining why she has chosen not to go the polls this time. “They [the government] said they would improve this place, but look around here!” She tells how the authorities promised to remove dangerous boulders from her friend’s yard, but never did. “Sihleli ematsheni njenge zimfene: We are living like monkeys on the rocks,” she says.

This is Balfour’s first local election since violent service delivery protests erupted in 2009. Controversial mayor Lefty Tsotetsi is still on the ANC list, but he faces a strong challenge from Socialist Civic Movement candidate Dumisani Zwane.

Zwane played a key role in the 2009 protests. His supporters describe him as a modest man who was reluctant to stand as mayor until the community persuaded him to represent them. Young people are among Zwane’s most devoted fans. In the afternoon some have gathered outside a polling station and they proudly show their IDs.

“We are tired of protesting,” they tell us. “We were going to end up as gangsters and we don’t want that,” says Martin Mfokeng. “All I want is a job so that I will be able to build a house for myself and not depend on government.”

His friend says that many youngsters in Balfour have turned to drugs and alcohol because there are no recreational facilities: “We used to have about 40 soccer clubs here, but now there are only three or four.”

If Zwane doesn’t become mayor, “hell will break loose”, another young voter warns.

As we talk, an Eskom technician is busy fixing a cable on a nearby electricity pole. The area hasn’t had any power all day. Suddenly there is a loud blast from the transformer. It sounds like fire crackers exploding.

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