Mossel Bay on the Cape South Coast is a sleepy, seaside town. But like any town or city in South Africa, it’s gripped by election fever.
Election posters decorate the street lampposts. The usual faces are present: the ANC’s president Cyril Ramaphosa, the Democratic Alliance’s Western Cape premier candidate Alan Winde, the Good party’s Patricia de Lille, and Pieter Groenewald of the Freedom Front Plus (FF+).
But it’s the green and orange of the FF+ that has top billing.
The party’s Mossel Bay interim chairperson, Flip du Plessis, says they’ve gone on a mission to get out their message.
At a house meeting of FF+ members, Du Plessis says he joined the party after several years as a DA member and councillor in the local municipality.
He says he resigned from the DA when he realised that people who look like him were being isolated and disposed of.
“I resigned from the DA in 2016 after I received a letter from the previous mayor. And it said that the DA has no place for old white men,” he says. “I felt bloody bad. Because I worked my arse [off] for them and I got a slap in the face [in return].”
Although other smaller parties have withered away Du Plessis says the FF+ has held steady in voter numbers in the Southern Cape because of the migration of middle-class white Afrikaans-speakers, particularly retirees, to the region. He says people have moved because they are seeking a better life away from ANC-run provinces and municipalities.
“When we did voter registration in our ward, we had more than a thousand new registered voters. And when I spoke to the new voters, a lot of them have moved from Pretoria. Which tells me Pretoria is Freedom Front-orientated, and I hope it will show here in the election results,” he says.
The meeting’s host is Dot van Rensburg, a former African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) member who joined the FF+ after the 2016 local government election.
Flip du Plessis left the Democratic Alliance after he was told there was no place for old white men. Dot van Rensburg (right) left the African Christian Democratic Party after the 2016 elections.
She objects to suggestions that the FF+ is a party for white people only, and says she is asked for memberships forms — up to 50 a day — from people of all backgrounds. “The Freedom Front is not racist. We are going for Afrikaans [-speaking people]. Colour doesn’t count; members count. And the more members we can get to join us, the better.”
Elroy Baron, who describes himself as the local Khoi chief, is the sole councillor for the FF+ in the Mossel Bay municipality.
Baron discusses election plans with party supporters in Asla Park, a poor township in Mossel Bay. (David Harrison)
A reluctant politician, who used to be a warden at the Oudtshoorn prison, Baron says he prayed and fasted for two weeks until God told him to join the party.
“I was asked to join the party in 2015, to stand for the position of mayor for the local government elections. I wasn’t actually interested in politics,” he says, adding that “I actually come from an ANC background. I was a member of Popcru [the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union] and the unions when I worked at the department of correctional services.”
Baron says it was discrimination against coloured wardens in meeting employment equity targets at the department of correctional services that turned him against the ANC.
“In 1998, I realised the unfairness in correctional services and employment equity, and I saw big problems for coloured people,” he says. “I realised that I couldn’t support the ANC any longer. After 1994, everything went from white to black. And that [meant] coloured people had no opportunities.”
He says he has come to terms with representing a party that many people wouldn’t usually associate with coloured people.
“In the beginning was it difficult, but I just listened to the voice of God,” he says. “And I realised I would be a barrier-breaker if I was elected.”
Baron believes that it is his Khoi connection that is helping him to canvas support for the FF+ in areas where coloured people live.
In Asla Park, a poor area comprising predominantly coloured and black African people, Baron speaks to local FF+ activists about plans to mobilise on election day.
Asla Park is like any other underserved suburb in South Africa. Unemployed young men stand in groups on corners; young women run after babies while simultaneously trying to hang up wet laundry on makeshift washing lines; dirt gathers in blocked street gutters and illegal power connections stretch out like spiderwebs from electricity poles.
Some of the activists with Baron say the township population has mushroomed. They blame immigrants from the Eastern Cape.
Baron says illegal connections regularly overload connection points and streets are left without power, particularly at night.
A young woman, Cruchanda Solomon, is wearing a green FF+ T-shirt. The May 8 general elections will be the second time she has voted for the FF+.
Asked why she’s voting for the party, her answer is simple. “Because Elroy is my uncle, and he’s my chief,” she says.
“You see, they follow their chief,” says Baron.
But Solomon says its more than just familial loyalty. She says the ANC and the DA have had a chance to govern in the province, and the DA in her municipality, but she has not seen a tangible change in her living conditions.
“The Freedom Front can bring a lot of things. Here we struggle with electricity. The DA is promising people things, but there’s no difference,” she says.
This is despite the DA congratulating itself last week after Mossel Bay was identified as the country’s best-run municipality by think-tank Good Governance Africa in its annual analysis of municipalities.
Baron says he sees the FF+ growing in the South Cape and Karoo.
Next week he is heading to a meeting with farmers in Oudtshoorn. Even though most of them will be white people, he’s looking forward to addressing them.
“They’re all AfriForum guys. They’ll pack a hall, and they’ll pay for all the advertising. It won’t be long before we win Oudtshoorn,” Baron predicts.