Zuma's politicking on the road to Eldorado
In 1994, Eldorado Park in Johannesburg south voted ANC. It was one of the only coloured townships to do so. Two decades later, it is firmly in the hands of the opposing Democratic Alliance (DA), which has done well in traditionally coloured areas.
President Jacob Zuma on Tuesday responded to an appeal by residents to help them to get over their drug problem.
Last year, the area had the highest level of drug-related theft and domestic abuse in Gauteng.
Sitting on white plastic chairs in the sun, the gathered residents were angry at first. Zuma was two hours late and only a few members of his delegation were on stage. Only the timely playing of gospel music distracted them, and the group of about 500 started singing along.
After Zuma arrived, locals voiced their problems, but also their suspicions. "I am scared that you will leave here with a lot of promises, but do nothing," said Doreleene James, one of the mothers who wrote to the president asking for help.
It only took Zuma 10 minutes to have the crowd chanting his name. "We are not going to promise and not act," he said. "I am going to drive this programme myself."
Ebrahim Fakir, a political analyst at the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, said: "The ANC has always been seized by this nonracial project, and tries these initiatives where it reaches out."
The fact that Zuma was in a minority community a year before the election was a "happy coincidence", he said. It gave the party a chance to show that it could deliver on its promises.
Frans Cronje, deputy chief executive at the South African Institute of Race Relations, said the visit was "entirely political".
Black African voter turnout had been consistently slipping, so the value of the coloured vote was now increasing despite their small numbers, he said. "If the ANC gets its support knocked down to 50% in the province in the next election, it will need every vote it can get.
"So they are going to shore up support in the minorities," he said.
Statistics South Africa's mid-year population estimate said there were 4.8-million coloured people in the country. Half of these were in the Western Cape, where they helped to get the DA into power.
There are 424 000 coloured people in Gauteng – 3.5% of its population. Voting patterns are, however, not broken down by race. In the 2011 local elections, the ANC got nearly two-thirds of the province's vote – the DA took about a third.
Professor Susan Booysen, an expert on public policy at the Graduate School of Public and Development Management at the University of the Witwatersrand, said Zuma's visit was definitely electioneering.
"Pushing Zuma into Eldorado was probably by design," she said. "It gives the ANC a chance to deliver and show progress on their promises. Word will then spread." But to do this, they would have to show a dramatic turnaround in the area's drug problem, she said.
The governing party would probably aim to do similar big events where they showed that they were delivering in order to win voters over, Booysen said. After nine years of service delivery protests, voters would take a lot of convincing that things could change.
In Gauteng, the coloured vote was traditionally split between parties. Unlike in the Western Cape, where votes were along ethnic lines, votes in the province were split along class lines, Booysen said.
"The coloured voting block is ready to be captured," she said. For the DA, it was a fertile place for it to grow in the province. The party has been talking up its chances in the 2014 election. This was a chance for the ANC to get votes that it had normally lost out on, she said.
It would have to pull this off, given that the ANC had seen a decline in its political hold in recent elections. "They need to show that they are not incontrovertibly on the decline," she said. "And getting control over a new voting bloc would help with this."
Michele Valentine, the DA councillor of Ward 17 in Eldorado Park, said the suburb had moved between the ANC and the DA in the past few elections. Zuma's decision to visit now had a lot to do with politics, because the whole area was in DA hands, she said. The DA was growing its coloured base in the province and this was threatening the ruling party.
"People look for problems and then they come with a trump card to say they can solve them and look good," Valentine said.
The crowd quickly filtered out of the stadium after Zuma left with his police escort. Most seemed convinced that the president was sincere, but they wanted him to deliver on his promises "now".
Street sellers around the sports fields where Zuma spoke seemed unperturbed. All said that children had constantly approached them with goods to sell. "How can I buy these when I know they were stolen from their mothers for drugs," one asked the Mail & Guardian.