Anger and resignation in Lerato Park's shantytown

Trooi Speelman has to provide for her adult dependants on her social grant, but she will not vote DA. (Madelene Cronjé, M&G)

Trooi Speelman has to provide for her adult dependants on her social grant, but she will not vote DA. (Madelene Cronjé, M&G)

Dusk falls in Lerato Park, a bleak township on the outskirts of Kimberley. Purple and orange hues hang over the horizon, and the sky over the Northern Cape expands majestically. It rained yesterday.

A tall man scurries across the road, cloaked by the ripped black refuse bags he uses to shield himself from the rain. But he rushes in vain, the drizzle is only faint now, and the taxis that bring home those who have jobs in the city have left. No one is coming down this road now.

Lerato Park is a place of waiting. Here, patience is a survival tool. Nothing appears urgent, least of all changing the squatter-like conditions of the residents.

Two tall mast lights, erected by the municipality, reveal the zinc shanties. The vague orange spotlight gradually fades as the rows of shacks stretch out towards the city in the east. These grey concrete masts are a stopgap for streetlights that may one day light up the shantytown.

To the west is the last row of shacks before the next town, Barkly West. There is nothing but open veld and sky in the approximately 30km in between.

Across the tarred road in a neighbouring township, streetlights light up. On that side of the road, a pile of bricks is ready to become new houses. But those bricks are not for Lerato Park, and those streetlights do not line these streets.

Limited housing
In the light of day, it is clear that Lerato Park has not been completely ignored by the city authorities. In the new Lerato Park housing project, 200 people were accommodated by the government in October 2013. But they are the only ones so far.

The 4 500 shacks in Lerato Park were first earmarked as one of several "pilot projects" for housing by the provincial government in 2005. Since then, it has been a long, long wait for the people who live here.

Progress pitted against poverty defines the province. Yes, the provincial government has built six hospitals in the past decade. But it took 11 years to build the only mental health facility in the province, and the hospital is still not ready for use.

Four out of every 10 young people in the Northern Cape do not have jobs. 

And yes, the provincial government has tried to grow the tourism sector, hosting international events to market the province, as mining steadily declines as the main contributor to the provincial gross domestic product. But official unemployment hovers at about 24%, although this is improving, and 23.7% of the population relies on social grants for an income. Four out of every 10 young people do not have a job.

The national government is building solar parks, and the province hopes to be the main distributor of clean energy to the country by 2020.

But inept municipalities, the auditor general's chronic headache, battle to keep the lights on, and there are not enough ratepayers to feed Eskom.

Frustrating flirtation
The people of Lerato Park are like hundreds of thousands in the Northern Cape who have had only a frustrating flirtation with the fruits of freedom. It's a cat-and-mouse game where others, always others, eventually catch the mouse.

Those who remain in Lerato Park do not know why they were not accommodated in the new housing development. It is about 10 minutes' walk from the new houses to where the rest of the intended recipients wait, and wait.

The stench of excrement and compost lingers. Here, long-drop toilets covered with zinc are shared between houses, and the pungent smell from the neighbouring mushroom farm gets worse when it rains.

Children play soccer on the dirt pitch nearby ­– the children call it their "gym" – while mine dumps rise behind them. Mothers warn their children not to wander too close to the dumps. Children have been raped there.

In the final moments of sunlight, those who have found work in Kimberley, roughly 10km away, return home. The rest have been here all day, and they will be here all day tomorrow. There are no schools, no shopping centres, hospitals or taxi ranks. A mobile clinic visits once a month, and children walk to the main road to catch a taxi to attend school ­elsewhere in the city.

Election posters in Lerato Park.

There is a quiet acceptance about the state of things from some, especially those who have lived here for 20 years or more. From others, there is a raging anger, and a determination to vote not necessarily for another party, but against the ANC.

Tshepo* is 18, and he will vote for the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). Its leader, Julius Malema, addressed a rally in nearby Jan Kempdorp on April 5. Tshepo tried to attend it, but clashes with the ANC outside the stadium prevented him from seeing Malema in person.

"I'm voting EFF because they deserve a chance," he said. "We are tired of living like this. I play soccer, get high, sit in my shack, get high, play soccer … I can't find a job."

But his neighbours point out that it is thanks to the ANC that white journalists sit alongside black people in peace. Shoulders shrug in ambivalence at the mention of John Block, the ANC's provincial chairperson and MEC for finance, presently fending off charges of fraud, corruption and money laundering in the high court in Kimberley. Here, as in so many townships, political party posters adorn shacks, yet the residents are quick to point out that the posters were stuck on their shacks without their consent. Some posters, leftovers from the 2009 election, keep the wind out of broken windows.

About two and a half hours away is Danielskuil, a small town bordering lime, marble and diamond deposits. Here, many people are still waiting for the benefits promised on the election posters. There is a pervasive belief that "we are on the housing list".

Door to door
In the nearby township, Kuilville, Democratic Alliance (DA) and ANC volunteers are campaigning, door-to-door. It is Wednesday, and ANC volunteers are visiting the elderly and the disabled. A volunteer, who asks not to be named, says the aim is to make sure that the party has the details of these voters. She will return to these shacks on election day because "the old ladies say they want me there when they vote".

Patricia O'Neill-Coutts, the DA's constituency leader in the area, says campaigning here is a challenge. One ward in this area stretches up to 160km, and communities are spread far and wide.

The vast stretches of nothingness are briefly interrupted by farms and mines. To reach every voter requires feet on the ground– and that means money.

Poverty and uemployment are harsh realities in the township. (Photos: Madelene Cronjé, M&G)

This is not a traditional DA stronghold, but a near win in a recent by-election nearby has given the party hope that allegiances are shifting. Along with the Congress of the People (Cope), the DA governed four municipalities in the Northern Cape after the 2011 election, losing one to the ANC in a by-election late last year.

In Kuilsville, a former farmworker chases away an ANC volunteer with a shrill shout and a wagging finger. A young child clings to her leg.

"All I do is vote, vote, vote! Look at how I live? Look at this place! Voetsek!"

Let them eat cake
Several blocks away, Trooi Speelman (79) has just been promised cake by DA campaigners. With her social grant she takes care of her son, who is a labourer recovering from a back injury, and her 52-year-old mentally disabled daughter.

But she is not voting DA. "I voted for Mandela in 1994 and I will vote for Mandela now."

Looking at her, you'd be forgiven for thinking she was older, perhaps more senile, but her sharp wit betrays her.

"He hurt his back, but his boep (paunch) is OK," she says, pointing to her son's ­protruding stomach.

And she is not the only person not voting for the DA. The ANC's popularity should not be underestimated, in spite of its measly 60% win in 2009 compared with other provinces. And it is campaigning everywhere you look.

Northern Cape premier Sylvia Lucas is a former typist for the National Party. That legacy took a long time to subside, and the ANC did not win an outright majority in 1994. It only took 49% of the vote, with 40% going to the Nats. With the decline of the NP came the rise of the DA, which became the official opposition in 2004. In 2009, Cope took over from the DA.

The two parties are considering a coalition government in 2014 should the ANC get less than 50%, but neither party has enough votes to rule outright. 

In the Afrikaans-speaking western parts of the province the opposition has made inroads. A recent Ipsos poll put ANC support at 42.7% after May 7, but ANC provincial secretary Zamani Saul is optimistic, saying, "We expect ­nothing less than 70% of the vote."

Following the fragmentation of the ANC after the Cope split, the party was largely divided along Zuma-Mbeki lines in the 2009 elections. The ANC is more stable now. Some Cope supporters even came back.

In the Setswana-speaking, or black, areas to the north-east, the ANC is said to enjoy much support. Yet much of this area is farmland, and in mid-April, an estimated 63 000 seasonal workers returned to their homes outside of the province. Most of them are believed to be ANC supporters.

But, as with most things in the Northern Cape, the situation is unpredictable.

*Not his real name

Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans interned at the Diamond Fields Advertiser in Kimberley for three years before completing an internship at the Mail & Guardian Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane). She went on to work as a Mail & Guardian news reporter with areas of interest including crime, law, governance and the nexus between business and politics.  Read more from Sarah Evans

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