Where voters won’t come out to vote

Smelly: Sewage flows along the street in Utlwanang township (Oupa Nkosi)

Smelly: Sewage flows along the street in Utlwanang township (Oupa Nkosi)

The neon pink shack has gaping spaces between the corrugated iron walls and the poles that are holding the rickety structure together.

The matriarch of this home, which houses 16 people, comes in wheezing and pumping her asthma inhaler after she eventually got the fire lit outside.

“I have to save electricity, so I light a fire to cook outside. My asthma gets to me sometimes, but I’m fine,” she says as she takes deep breaths.

This is just another day for Nontsokolo Khumalo and her family in Utlwanang township on the outskirts of Christiana in the North West. The township is part of the LekwaTeemane local municipality which, in the 2014 national elections, saw only 43.31% of the eligible voters turn up at the polls — one of the smallest turnouts in the country.

In this province 66.32% of those registered to vote cast their ballots in the last elections, with the ANC taking 66.98% of the votes, followed by the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), with 17.34% and 8.31% respectively.

Driving into Christiana, the main town of the municipality, EFF and ANC posters populate every second pole, vying for space.

Khumalo says she has been an ANC supporter since 1994 when she joined the ANC Women’s League.

Despondent: Nontsokolo Khumalo has always voted ANC, but may not vote on May 8.
(Oupa Nkosi)

“Every year I have voted for the ANC because I am afraid of what will happen if I don’t. Every election we are promised jobs and houses, but nothing happens. I have been living in this shack for the past 25 years. This year I have been promised a house, but I no longer believe it.”

Khumalo says that after every election she tries to find out when she is getting a decent roof over her head, or if her children can get scholarships or a job, but none of the people who made the promises respond.

“I’ll try to wave them down and they’ll quickly put their phone to their ear to show me they are busy. The only way to get anything here is if you are close to someone. Even the fact that I am a member of the women’s league makes no difference.”

Khumalo says she is despondent, does not know who to turn to and, even though she is registered to vote, she has no drive to go to the voting stations come May 8.

Tshegofatso Itebogeng, who also lives in Utlwanang, says her parents are staunch supporters of the ANC, but she was one of the people who did not turn up to the voting booth during the last national elections.

“Politics in this area is taken very seriously and whatever the family supports, you have to support it too. I have spent all my life in this small town and maybe I have become cynical, but I don’t believe in the ANC.”

Dithakwaneng village (Oupa Nkosi)

Itebogeng says she has no reason to vote. She is unemployed and when her mother was on the list to get an RDP house she was told that because she works for a rich white man she has enough money.

“I can’t participate in the elections because they only benefit those who are connected. You won’t get anything from the ANC if you aren’t from the right family,” she says.

Back in town, a woman, who did not want to be named, in a 4x4 bakkie with her three children, said she will vote. “I have been voting for the past few elections and [regarding] those who don’t, I think it’s sad because they won’t be able to change their situations. Some of the people we have working on the farm have been complaining about where they live and how little services they get, but they must vote for another party and not stay away,” she said.

Just an hour’s drive from Lekwa-Teemane municipality lies Vryburg, where its ward five, in the picturesque village of Dithakwaneng, had only 45% of those registered turn out in 2014. Five years ago, the majority of the votes was split between the ANC (67%) and the EFF (17%).

The village has a half-completed tar road and every yard has an RDP house and a long-drop toilet.

According to Mmalobelo Galemediwe (79), this is an ANC stronghold and everyone she knows votes for the party. “We owe the ANC everything. Back in 1973 the apartheid police forcefully removed us from our land to drop us in Kuruman where we had no homes, arable land or our ancestors. The only thing that made it bearable was my community. The ANC gave us back our dignity and our ancestral land,” she said.

ANC stronghold: Mmalobelo Galemediwe says that the residents of Dithakwaneng village will continue to vote for the ruling party because it has given them land and houses and restored their dignity. (Oupa Nkosi)

But dissenting voices are growing. One woman waiting for Electoral Commission officials at the community hall in Dithakwaneng, who asked not to be named, said she did not vote in the last elections and is uncertain whether she will vote this time.

“I know other people who had no reason to vote. We have no jobs and even when the road construction was still under way we got no work. Why should we vote then?”

Andrew Maelangwe (48), a father of four, said that when Nelson Mandela died so did the ANC.

He and his family live on one child grant and his eldest child had to drop out of university because they had no money.

“I have nothing, nothing. Look at my shoes and somehow I am meant to vote for the same party. No! If the ANC wants votes, they must fetch those people who they gave jobs to.”


Ballot burnout

The Institute for Security Studies’ report on voter participation in the 2014 elections shows the turnout of voters was 73%, a 4% decline on the last two elections. Participation was 86% in 1994, 72% in 1999 and 58% in 2004.

The Electoral Commission of South Africa said that in 2014, of the 31.4-million people eligible to vote, 18.6-million (59%) voted.

This year, more than a quarter of those eligible to vote are not registered: 9.2-million South Africans are eligible, but not registered (25.6%).

Dinonofo Pico is the Eugene Saldanha Fellow for Social Justice at the Mail & Guardian, funded by the Summit Education Trust. Jacques Coetzee is the Adamela Data Fellow, a position funded by the Indigo Trust. 

Athandiwe Saba

Athandiwe Saba

Athandiwe Saba is a multi award-winning journalist who is passionate about data, human interest issues, governance and everything that isn’t on social media. She is an author, an avid reader and trying to find the answer to the perfect balance between investigative journalism, online audiences and the decline in newspaper sales. It’s a rough world and a rewarding profession.
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    • Dinonofo Pico

      Dinonofo Pico

      Dino is the 2019 Eugene Saldanha Fellow for Social Justice at the Mail & Guardian, a position made possible with funding from the Summit Education Trust and administered by the Adamela Trust. With a background in physics and computing, Dino's speciality is in data journalism, and as part of the M&G Data Desk he helps brings hard facts and evidence-based precision to issues and stories affecting millions of South Africans.  
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