In January this year, Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit was overflowing with ANC supporters as President Jacob Zuma launched the party's election manifesto.
"We are continuing to expand access to housing and basic services and building integrated human settlements,” he told the cheering crowd. He also committed to implementing the National Development Plan and focusing on job creation, rural development and land reform.
On Saturday – four months after the ANC’s manifesto celebrations – the local Democratic Alliance (DA) branch took to the streets of Tekwana South, Kanyamazane and Kabokweni near Nelspruit. These areas revealed a 30% support base for the DA in the 2009 elections and the party has begun door-to-door campaigning to increase this margin.
But in an area that ultimately remains dominated by the ANC, the real question is whether feelings on the ground have shifted and whether anything has changed in the past few months.
Give us our RDP title deeds
Tekwane South resident Themba Nxumalo points at the foundations of a neighbouring RDP house as he speaks. The cement foundation is jutting above the ground. "They just put it on top of the ground, they don’t put it underground. Then the water flows into the foundation."
Themba Nxumalo in his RDP house in Tekwane South. (All photos by Gabi Falanga)
Nxumalo's biggest concern is the state of housing in the area. Residents are living in RDP houses but still do not have title deeds.
"There is in-fighting over RDP housing," he says. He claims RDP houses are given to rich people who then rent it out – making the rich richer and the poor poorer.
He points out the police's failure to do anything about the situation, labelling them as corrupt. "Laying a complaint or making an affidavit brings no results."
Inside his own RDP house, Nxumalo raises a net curtain. The paint is bubbling off the wall – the same is happening in the bathroom and kitchen. “The ANC want us to pay rates for water and electricity, but look at this,” he says.
The young man doesn’t have much time for the ANC, their supporters or the president. “We’ve been fighting for the [tarring of the] road and [putting up] streetlights,” Nxumalo says. “They put street lights up in phase one where the councillors live. But not here. There’s no safety at night, it’s always dark.”
Service delivery protests
In February and March the area was gripped by service delivery protests. "People have been burning tyres, fighting and shooting people."
Nxumalo is concerned about corruption within the ruling party. He has few compliments for Zuma. "I've never liked Jacob Zuma in my life. [Thabo] Mbeki was better, which is why they pushed him out easily. And then they stopped the Scorpions when they started investigating Zuma," he said, alluding to the rumours that the Scorpions were disbanded after they starting investigating Zuma for corruption in relation to the Arms Deal.
He refers to the Nkandla scandal to further illustrate his point. "How can international people invest in our country while it’s corrupt? Jacob Zuma used R200-million for himself. We don't need Zuma for a second term. He's full of shit."
Nxumalo voted for the ANC once – in the first democratic election in 1994. The next year he voted for the United Democratic Movement and since then he has been a DA supporter.
He believes that with the DA in power, job creation would increase. Although Nxumalo has a job working for a steel transporting company, he mentions that many of his neighbours are unemployed. "The DA knows how to manage everything," he says, referring to the DA's efficient administration several times and what this could mean in terms of affecting change in their area.
We want jobs, not promises
Wearing a yellow ANC shirt with Zuma's face printed on the front, Mxolisi Dlaminkosi sits hunched over outside his RDP house in Tekwane South.
Mxolisi Dlaminkosi (left) and his neighbour Goodman Lukele.
Despite the hype around the ANC's Mbombela festivities, which he excitedly attended, he has become disillusioned with the ruling party, saying those in power are the only ones that benefit.
"At Mbombela the council made a lot of promises that they can't keep. There needs to be change and development and jobs.
“If they improve the infrastructure, like the building of roads, it will help create jobs because jobs are the main problem here," says Dlaminkosi, who is unemployed.
Although he's always been an ANC supporter, Dlaminkosi is considering voting for a different party in May. "The DA might give me a job," he says, although not entirely convincingly.
Recent scandals that have rocked the ANC and Zuma are not what has changed his feelings. "Nkandla didn't change anything. The only people that are wrong are the people from the department of [public] works. It doesn't change anything about Zuma or the ANC," he says, fiddling with his faded yellow shirt.
Hospital road needs attention
Dignity Mahlangu is a nurse at Tonga Hospital.
"Since 2008 when I started, the road to the hospital has been very bad. When a patient is in labour, they sometimes have to deliver on the way. It worries me. And the cars get damaged."
There are frequent protests surrounding the state of this road. "Two months ago there was a toyi-toyi and they blocked the road," she explains. According to Mahlangu, the road usually gets patched up after protest action but within a few weeks it is in the same state again, especially if it rains heavily.
However, she says the road outside her Kanyamazane house was finally tarred about two months ago. She says in the run up to elections, there is always a rushed flurry of maintenance in the area.
Apart from this and the high rate of unemployment in the area, Mahlangu does not experience any other problems. "Many people are not working. Government should help them to get work."
Mahlangu has always been a devout ANC supporter but as a DA campaigner hands her a pamphlet on their campaign in Kanyamazane, she says she is open to being convinced – if someone can give her a good enough reason why DA rule would be a good thing. As an afterthought she adds, "I don't know what good things can come from the DA, though. One you vote for them, they forget all the promises they’ve made." She says this is the same for all parties.
"The ANC brought us to where we are now from apartheid," Mahlangu points out, once again defending her party of choice. Most people in her neighbourhood are also ANC supporters she says.