Sasolburg’s roads are littered with strange, small heaps of sand. There are potholes that locals have attempted to fill themselves. They are also the first signs of neglect you see on entering the town.
It’s a normal Wednesday in the central parts of the town. A large billboard of a smiling President Jacob Zuma is the only indication that an election is under way.
One long main road leads to the local township of Zamdela. The difference between it and Sasolburg is immediately evident. The potholes are deeper, trees are fewer and there are more people walking along the streets — a testament of the high unemployment rate in the area.
ANC campaigners and chanting supporters drive around in a large 4×4 equipped with loudspeakers.
Economic Freedom Fighter lobbyists walk through the streets wearing their bright red T-shirts — and, at first glance, it’s hard to distinguish between them and their South African Communist Party counterparts.
Sasolburg is part of the Metsimaholo municipality, which was the centre of a highly contested by-election this week.
The Free State municipality, with a population of more than 149 000 and a 42.8% employment rate, was thrust into re-election in July following the dissolution of its council, which failed to adopt a 2017-2018 budget.
On Wednesday, voting day, there was a strange mix of optimism and lethargy from voters as they made their way to voting stations to cast their ballot.
“When I think of voting again I become naar [nauseous] and angry,” says Manini Mohoje, a resident of an informal settlement known as Iraq.
“Because I voted last time. Next thing I hear they [political parties] are fighting among themselves. And then the next thing they are telling us we will have to vote again. So how did they help me?”
Iraq is a section of Zamdela township where residents are among the worst affected by poor service delivery. After being on an RDP waiting list for more than five years, Mohoje finally started to see her dreams of having a home materialise when construction began on her house in 2015. But construction came to a halt and there is no indication of when it will resume.
“What am I going to do with half a house? On top of that, Iraq stinks!” Mohoje said.
In addition to unfinished RDP houses the settlement has a sewage problem because toilets are not connected to the sewerage system. Residents have resorted to digging their own pit latrines, filling Iraq with a pungent smell.
In another section of the township, 54-year-old Disemelo Motloung approaches the Iketsetseng Secondary School where she will cast her vote. Unlike Mohoje, she lives in a peach-coloured three-bedroom house with a small fence.
Her biggest concern, she says, is the high level of unemployment. But she doesn’t know who to vote for.
“Ke tla bona pele [I’ll see when I get there],” she says. “I’m asking God as I walk who I should vote for. Last year I voted for someone else, not ANC, but I didn’t feel happy afterwards, because I love ANC … I just don’t like you-know-who,” she said gesturing to a poster of Zuma.
“Even Ntate Ace [Magashule], I’m not sure about him. And the councillors here will obviously take instructions from him,” Motloung said.
On the road leading to Vaalpark, a more affluent part of Sasolburg, posters from the Democratic Alliance and the Freedom Front Plus start to appear more frequently along the streets. Representatives from both are seated outside Vaalpark Articon, an arts school, where voters are lining up.
“Agteruitgaan [degeneration] is the word I think of when I think of Sasolburg,” says resident Willem Nienkemper.
“You saw the roads. You saw how our town is so dirty. As someone who grew up in Sasolburg, this is very sad to see.”
Some town residents have formed a Facebook group named “Sasolburg — Poor Service Delivery” on which they occasionally share their concerns about the state of the town.
The social media group is mainly representative of people who live in the northern parts of Sasolburg, and their concerns are the roads, cleanliness of the town and rates. But Nienkemper says the group is not exclusive to Vaalpark residents.
“Everybody is welcome to join the group — it’s not a racial thing,” Nienkemper said. “Because at the end of the day we all want to live well, whether it’s in the location or here.”
See Pages 14 & 15 for more about the Metsimaholo local municipality by-election