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‘Partner swapping’ takes on new meaning as DA and ANC play musical chairs

It used to be considered taboo – spoken of in hushed tones. But now “partner swapping” has taken on a whole new political meaning as the ANC and Democratic Alliance swap their councillor candidates in Helenvale, Nelson Mandela Bay.

Before the 2006 elections, Pieter Hermanus convinced most residents in the mostly coloured area of Helenvale to vote for the ANC. Five years later, unsure if he would return to the council in 2011, he was suspended by the governing party for conspiring with the DA’s candidate, Nico du Plessis.

Fast forward another five years and the bromance that gassed up Hermanus has deteriorated into one of the most ironic and laughable contests for power at ward level. Hermanus had joined the DA.

Du Plessis has now defected to the ANC after resigning from his position as DA ward councillor, just two months before this week’s vote.

The charade makes Wednesday’s election seem absurd to some: while the DA and ANC relentlessly castigate each other’s ability to produce quality leaders, they don’t mind swapping out councillors.

Apparently oblivious to the irony, heated arguments broke out this week between unemployed residents, many dressed in freshly-printed political T-shirts. The confrontation started as candidates from the the two parties wrapped up their respective election campaigns with visits to the polling stations to observe special votes being cast.

On Tuesday, Western Cape premier Helen Zille and the DA’s Nelson Mandela Bay mayoral candidate, Athol Trollip, joined Hermanus in Helenvale to campaign next to a burst water pipe. The pipe happened to have been leaking water unabated in front of a school where the Independent Electoral Commission had set up a voting station.

On Wednesday, a group of women huddled together at the school’s fence to evade winds and rain, collectively hurling insults at ANC supporters.

“Pieter gaan ons help. Nico het ons vergeet! Wen hulle, DA! Wen hulle! [Pieter’s going to help us. Nico forgot about us! Beat them, DA! Beat them!]” the women shouted. The ANC supporters retorted by chanting “Danny! Danny! Danny!” in a reference to ANC mayor Danny Jordaan.

James Fischer, or Jimaro-Jumbo as he’s known in the gang-ridden part of the township, shook his head as he made his way through the commotion.

“Kyk die stupid mense – hulle word befok van die liegbek politicians. Kan hulle nie sien die is dieselfde councillors nie? [Look at these stupid people – they go crazy for these lying politicians. Can’t they see it’s the same councillors?]” he sniped.

Forty-nine-year-old Linda Heemro isn’t fooled by the political switcheroo either. While her main concern has been drive-by shootings and a spike in crime, Heemro still battles to get services from the municipality.

“I don’t have a tap and asked Nico to fix it, but nothing happened. I have a two-month-old baby in the house,” she mumbled, staring at the conflict up the road. Heemro admits to being a loyal DA voter but isn’t wearing the party’s T-shirt and does not follow those who enthusiastically swarm around the national leaders who have graced the area for the day.

“More people are joining the DA now and I hoped they could help, but I must chase after them to get things fixed,” she said.

Jimaro also isn’t voting, despite an official visit by Hermanus to his broken-down and sewage-flooded backyard shack, accompanied by grand promises of housing in the new DA administration.

He’s contracted tuberculosis three times and is currently completing his treatment regimen, currently weighing less than 50kg. “Kyk hoe lewe ek. Hoe moet ek so lewe?! [Look at how I’m living. How am I supposed to live like this?]” he burst out, saying he feels forgotten by the councillors and government.

Back at the DA campaign show, Trollip’s people alerted Hermanus to the media presence in the community and advised him to discredit his former political BFF, Du Plessis.

“Nico turned his back on Helenvale and he must take full responsibility for it. The youth are joining gangs here because affirmative action excludes them from the job market. When I come in, I will try to negotiate a truce,” Hermanus said confidently.

Listening to the interview, Jimaro and his friend started to crack up laughing. “Hy kon dan fokol change bring toe hy councillor was nie. Hulle praat kak, man! [He brought fuck-all change when he was a councillor. They’re talking shit, man!]”

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Govan Whittles

Govan Whittles is a general news and political multimedia journalist at the Mail & Guardian. Born in King William's Town in the Eastern Cape, he cut his teeth as a radio journalist at Primedia Broadcasting. He produced two documentaries and one short film for the Walter Sisulu University, and enjoys writing about grassroots issues, national politics, identity, heritage and hip-hop culture.

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