No free lunch in Bekkersdal, but try the breakfast buffet

A bone-chilling winter’s morning is enough to put off voters in Bekkersdal, a community of 47 000 west of Johannesburg.

Sleep was hard the night before. The singing of protesters built up to the petrol-bombing of three tented voting stations. The response was the throaty roar of engines of heavily armoured police and army vehicles.

There is much grumbling and rubbing of bleary, red eyes in the morning queues. At a small, dark and almost claustrophobic Independent Electoral Commission station, the queue starts before the official 7am opening.

People have to stamp their feet and rub their hands together to stay warm. They want to vote.

A few hundred metres away, though, it is still sleep time for Samuel Modise. He eventually gets up at 8am, opening the wooden door to his corrugated-iron shack and stepping outside to stretch.

“It is good to have a holiday,” he says, stifling a big yawn, before going back inside to put on a tight white shirt. Modise will not say where he was last night, but knows all about the action the night before. “Why vote when there are no jobs?”

At 19, he is unemployed and has stopped looking: a discouraged jobseeker in official parlance. Modise left school before he finished – in grade nine – and has done very little since then. “What future can you have with the schools that we have now? They do not give you work.”

The township is situated between Westonaria and Randfontein, in the centre of the world’s richest gold seam. It was founded in 1945 as a labour pool for the growing industry. The mine shafts are numerous, and a cluster rises into the sky a kilometre from Modise’s house. This is where his neighbours work – the older ones.

By the time Modise wakes up his immediate neighbours have already voted. He says his generation has no chance: they are not educated enough to get good jobs, but are unable to do manual labour in the mines because they only look out for those who already have jobs.

“This is the system and the parties give us nothing and do not listen to us.” He gives a casual shrug when he says this, not getting worked up over the injustice.

His generation has a 50% unemployment rate – the third highest in the world after the spectacularly collapsed economies of Spain and Greece. Given repeated options to register to vote, Modise chose not to. Only a third of the 1.9-million “born-frees” did.

Modise sees no point. Instead, he relies on the grant that his grandmother receives every month.

For supper Modise walks 2km down the dusty roads of the informal section of Bekkersdal to his granny’s RDP house.

But today he has a scheme for a good breakfast, and puts on another layer of clothing before heading off on a tour of the voting stations.

Each party has laid on a spread of piping hot coffee and thick chunks of bread at their tables, luring in voters. For Modise, election day does come with slices of happiness.

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Sipho Kings
Sipho Kings is a former acting editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian

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