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Umdoni residents want change

South Africans are notorious for sticking to their political party choices, come hell or high water. Not so for the residents of voter district 44040024 — Ward 7 in the Umdoni local municipality on the upper KwaZulu-Natal South Coast.

Since the 1999 national elections, the residents of this voting district have voted in favour of six different parties when they made their crosses on the ballot papers at the Sezela public library.

The district in Umdoni is the only place in the country that has changed its political party affiliation six times in eight elections.

South Africa’s most fickle polling district has, in successive national,provincial and local government elections, voted in favour of the then Democratic Party,the Ratepayers and Residents Party Simunye,the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP),the Minority Front,the ANC and, most recently, the Democratic Alliance (DA).

Lorraine Pillay (62) is one of the Sezela residents who has changed her vote — more than once, it turns out — over the years.

Lorraine Pillay is fed up with politicians who don’t fulfil their promises. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

“I’m one of those who is guilty of that,” said Pillay, who, like her husband Ronnie, is retired.

In an interview at her home in the village last week, she said: “It’s my point of view that we needed to vote for different parties.Parties come and say certain things but then don’t do them, so we try somebody else.”

The voting district consists mainly of the small village adjacent to the Illovo Sugar mill, the major employer in the area. Among its 8765 residents are several pensioners from Illovo, which began selling company houses to employees in the late 1990s.

In the most recent local government elections, there was a two-way battle between the ANC and the DA, with the governing party taking 47% of the vote and the opposition 45%. Turnout was relatively high at 62.4%.

Umdoni, made up of Sezela, Scottburgh, Ifafa Beach and the surrounding rural area, much of which consists of sugar farms, is controlled by the ANC, which took 60.85% of the vote in 2016, with the DA taking 17.98% and the IFP 9.08%.

So is Ward 7, whose councillor Nokuthula Khabela lives in Emalangeni, which falls under another voting district.

Pillay was born in Sezela andher father worked at the sugar mill for more than 40 years.She has alternated her vote between the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) and the DA over the years.

“I used to vote for the ACDP because we are very involved in the church,” she said. “The DA came and promised to do certain things for us. That’s why I voted for them.”

Pillay doesn’t know if she will vote on May 8. “People here don’t want to vote. They are fed up. The streetlights don’t work; the council doesn’t cut the verges. It’s dangerous to walk here at night — it’s pitch dark. The roads are full of potholes; there’s no facilities in this whole area.The politicians only come here at voting time. Then you don’t see them again for five years. This is a beautiful place, but they’re not looking after it,” she said.

“It is wrong, I know, but some of us are starting to agree that maybe we should not vote at all. I don’t know.”

Jermaine and Shaylin Pillay say that local politicians have done nothing to develop the area. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

The Umdoni municipality, which has its headquarters in Scottburgh, consists of 19 wards, with the ANC holding 23 seats on the 37-member council. In 2016 several wards from the then Vulamehlo local municipality, which was collapsed by government, were incorporated into Umdoni.

The new council has been troubled, with several financial scandals rocking the process of incorporating the new wards. Last year, opposition parties unsuccessfully called on the co-operative governance ministry to place the municipality under administration because of financial mismanagement.

Jermaine Pillay, a former operator at the sugar mill who now runs a grass-cutting service and fishes to make extra money, said he believed one of the reasons the district voted the way it did was because of the mill.“Most of the people at the mill used to be from here. Now all the contracts are going to people from Emalangeni and they are voting here because it’s close to the mill.”

Residents also shifted their votes after failing to get concrete benefit from the parties they had voted for.“People can see here that they vote, but nothing happens. There’s no progress here,” he said. “The beach isn’t looked after, there’s no tourism.”

Pillay, who has voted in two past elections, is voting again.

“I voted for the ANC before, but they’ve done nothing for us. I’m voting, but no more for them. There’s no jobs for us. This place doesn’t have a petrol station or a supermarket. There’s no clinic, no proper parks for small children. This place is dying.”

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper
Storyteller.
M&G Data Desk
The Data Desk is the centre for data journalism at Mail & Guardian

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