Port Elizabeth - The ANC’s charm offensive in the Eastern Cape and Free State was met with cheers, jeers and tough service delivery questions from disgruntled residents who complained about poor or inadequate services.
The party’s senior officials, including President Jacob Zuma, his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize and secretary-general Gwede Mantashe got the message first-hand after the ANC dispatched them to Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, and to the Free State areas of Mangaung, Sasolburg and Welkom.
The ANC’s top brass took the party’s campaign trail to the two provinces to sell the “good story”, and to rally support for the party ahead of the May 7 general elections.
While they were warmly received by some residents, others raised concerns about poor services and unfulfilled promises in the delivery of housing, water and jobs.
In Sasolburg, Mantashe met residents complaining about leaking, cracked and incomplete RDP houses.
In ward 13’s Iraq township, a woman grudgingly accepted the ANC’s T-shirt emblazoned with Zuma’s face.
“I don’t like this man sitting here,” said the woman, who did not want to be named, as she rolled out the folded T-shirt and pointed at Zuma’s picture.
A visibly embarrassed Mantashe tried to calm her down: “Don’t vote for him (Zuma), then – vote for the ANC.”
But the woman would have none of it, continuing with her protestations: “I only vote because of Mandela. This one sitting here (on the T-shirt) – he must go. He must give others (a) chance.”
Mantashe later defended Zuma’s leadership in an interview with The Sunday Independent. He said the woman’s statements were “not a representation” of other residents, and blamed the negativity around Zuma’s administration squarely on the media and sections of society.
“The media has been talking about the president negatively. The question of the president and Nkandla doesn’t come only during elections. It’s a preoccupation and obsession of the media and the elite,” said Mantashe.
Mantashe’s election trail in townships around wards 1 and 13 of the Metsimaholo Municipality at first got off to a good start, with residents chanting pro-ANC slogans.
His message to residents was unambiguous as he moved from house to house: “We are asking you to vote for the ANC on May 7.”
Many people grudgingly accepted his request, while complaining about the water seeping through their houses’ walls and floors.
Most residents grudgingly accepted Mantashe’s invitation.
“Yes, we will vote for the ANC, but my house is wet (waterlogged). The toilets don’t flush because there’s no sewerage (pipes). We are using pit toilets,” said Jane Ncwane, 49, who lives with her four children.
Mantashe said the protests in Bekkersdal, west of Joburg, which resulted in last Thursday’s violent clashes between angry residents and the party’s Gauteng provincial leadership, were born of anarchy, rather than genuine concerns.
“It wasn’t as if what happened in Bekkersdal couldn’t be expected. If you have concerns and don’t talk to people (ANC leaders), then there’s something more than a protest. It’s anarchy,” Mantashe said yesterday.
Gun-toting people believed to be bodyguards escorting Gauteng Housing MEC Ntombi Mekgwe and her entourage had to fire shots to disperse angry Bekkersdal residents who barricaded the streets with burning tyres, rocks and debris to stop the ANC leaders from conducting a door-to-door campaign in the area.
In Port Elizabeth, Zuma was greeted by loud cheers and jeers during his campaign in the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality.
He was accompanied by provincial ANC chairman Phumulo Masualle, Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane, ANC Youth League national convenor Mzwandile Masina and chief whip Stone Sizani.
His whirlwind tour of the region saw him visiting a number of communities in Walmer, Jacksonville, Motherwell and Uitenhage.
Walmer residents told Zuma of their daily struggles with their poorly built government houses, which flood after rain. “The rain leaks while we’re sleeping. During the night, everything happens,” said Nowandile Mayekiso, 65.
Another resident, Pumezile Dumezweni, added: “We’ve been waiting for you (Zuma). Our beds are rotten from the rain. But we will definitely vote for the ANC. We are just mopping (because of the leaking roof) now.”
Dumezweni lives with two unemployed adult children.
However, Zuma got a different reception a few kilometres away in the coloured township of Jacksonville, a DA-controlled ward.
Police were forced to create a human chain to contain disgruntled residents.
One of the placards carried by residents read: “Where were you at the beginning of the (housing) project? You come and show your face now that it is election time.”
“There’s gangsterism and selling of drugs. It’s always been a problem, especially the gangsterism here in the area. Since this morning, we knew our president was coming, so we prayed, because we just want peace among the people,” said resident Cindy Coetzee.
Another resident, Annie Lomberg, said the rectification that needed to be done on their houses had not been done.
While Ramaphosa was generally well received during his walkabout in the Bloemfontein central business district yesterday, with young and old posing for pictures with him, he was also confronted by disgruntled residents who demanded jobs and housing.
One of them, Vincent Kgoe, a 41-year-old street vendor, told Ramaphosa he had lived at the Phase 10 informal settlement for 10 years without his conditions improving. He said he needed basic services such as water, electricity and housing.
“I also want to live like other people. I am unemployed. I am hustling here at Central Park, selling cigarettes,” Kgoe said, who added he would still vote for the ANC.
Ramaphosa said the ANC-led government was on its way to improving Kgoe’s living conditions.