Three, two one, blastoff ! Colesberg makes it to the polls


Sunday, 26 May. Three days before Colesberg heads to the polls, it’s do or die for the ANC –at least one more score to settle, one more point to prove. Malema’s shindig! Though it drew a modest crowd, it still left a bitter taste in the mouths of diehard punters. At the time, it seemed everybody was caught unawares – too shocked, even, to have any ready answers at hand. Juju appeared like an apparition, and vanished just as quickly.

Since then, however, there’s been enough time to regroup, go back to the drawing board, and think up the counter of all counters. So the guns have gradually been drawn, mostly on social media. Back and forth. Thankfully, no blood on the floor just yet – no midnight torching of property, no barricades and burning tyres. Just threads of bickering, online posts and status updates laced with innuendo and the occasional insult to drive the point home. Understandable. We are, after all, down to the wire.

Condescendingly, Malema’s supporters dubbed theirs as the day the red forces marched on Colesberg and turned everything on its head. ‘Sizojik’ izinto’, – we will change things – and all that. This, according to the red brigade, was the day the ruling party were touched in their own studio. Upstaged in their own back yard. Told pasop, your days are numbered.

Khongolose was having none of it. The cheek. Desecrating a town where occasionally coffins are enrobed in green, black and gold — they might as well have gone full-blown DA and incinerated the party flag). Where women often attend church in ANC Women’s League  regalia. Where Struggle songs are a ubiquitous soundtrack on the soccer field, on the zig-zag trundle from a night out, or among youngsters loitering out on the kerb.

So Malema couldn’t be let off the hook – he had to be shown who’s the sheriff in this town. Or the Don Corleone. Bosses simply can’t let these things slide. So they had to pull out all the stops. Payback time for the disrespect. There would be no holds barred, not a cent spared, not a single supporter forgiven for sitting out the massive show of force when impressive bikes were called into action from far and wide.

The ANC bike-and-motorcade rolls into town.

And so, the blaring hooters sounding the clarion call. The big-engined bikes breaking into a thunderous roar. Open trucks teeming with jubilant people in yellow-t shirts, singing and chanting. Loud enough to muffle Dan Tshanda, that deceased virtuoso of Shangaan music whom this writer is enjoying on a sun-soaked Karoo afternoon. Today, everybody would have to wait, and take the back burner.

The ANC ‘motorcade rally’, held at exactly the same place where Julius Malema rallied his troops two weeks earlier.

The ANC is here to remind everybody that they are still calling the shots. That they run the show, including tenders and housing projects, and you best never forget that. As far as numbers go, at least to those who’ve witnessed these pre-29 May showdowns, they clearly have the lion’s share. Nothing here to suggest anything less than a majority vote. Given the motorcade afterparty, nothing says the leadership has been shaken up. The usual good malts and imported beer are flowing, as per the norm. Cheers … ag, Amandla, cadre!

Tuesday 28 May: The various party operation centres are a hive of activity. ‘Various’ in Kuyasa actually really means ‘two’ – those of the EFF (fewer in numbers and meals) and the ANC (larger, lots of food to go around). No prizes which of the lot appear happier and fatter, and sing louder. The special votes are under way, and the singing serves to remind the elderly and infirm exactly where their X should go.

Outside the Umsobomvu Municipality, an IEC official tells us the EFF’s party agents are keeping an excessively paranoid eye on proceedings. They don’t trust anybody — especially muinicipal employees. Not even the numbered seals on the ballot boxes are enough to ease their worrying. So much so that they vow to sleep outside the municipality tonight, just to make sure.

A few unsmiling words uttered, but no bloody noses just yet. The cops haven’t over-exerted themselves. But the roaming casspirs send a strong message: just try us, we dare you! Unfamiliar vehicles these, except during political shutdowns, protests and of course, elections. As for the residents, it’s business as usual. It being a public holiday tomorrow, the watering holes are fuller than on a usual Tuesday evening. Red and yellow t-shirts intermingle, so evidently no love lost. It’s the platteland after all, no inkabi hitmen here, ’cause everybody knows everybody’s else’s mother.

Wednesday 29 May. D-Day! Surprisingly, it’s not the music that rouses a sleepy Kuyasa Township at around 5 am, but the (here we must confess) reliable municipal rubbish trucks. Election or not, the heavily booted foot soldiers tasked with keeping the town clean are on duty. Just as on any other day. And on time. Salute!

With the rising sun, the music has started blaring from a plethora of speakers, from every nook, cranny, stoep and speakeasy. Emotive struggle songs like the one about Solomon Mahlangu ‘a soldier of Mkhonto weSizwe who was murdered by the Boers in Africa’ – and the battle cry dirge about ‘not wanting cowards or sellouts or the weak of heart, we want the soldiers of Tambo’. The liberation card: never forget what things were like. Vote wrong at your own peril. Thirty years on, it’s way too familiar.

And when there’s music, the booze and dance is always just a sip away. The ice-cold Black Labels look enticing, so too the smiling, full-figured ladies, but there’s a story to file. It’s been five years of ranting for us pundits, and today will either absolve our silly musings or call out our BS.

And so off we go scouring the enclaves of Kuyasa in search of a third, fourth or however many of the 54 parties on the national ballot we can lay our eyes or lens on. It’s a mission. By all appearances, this seems like a two-man show. Or maybe it’s what we’ve been saying all along: never mind what the polls say, race and such other short-sighted impediments still count big-time in rural South Africa. We know we will probably find a few others in ‘town’, but in Kuyasa we’ve thrown in the towel.

And so, turning the last corner into town, what do you know? Like a wise Bhikku meditating on top of a koppie, there he is: old but upright in his blue DA t-shirt, we find the proudest of all the party’s township supporters. He’s basking in the sun, taking in the buzz which he’s part of, if only in spirit as the bones don’t allow for any fast movements these days. Now we can take succour in the knowledge there will be more of them out there. More parties. that is.

The DA sage on the koppie. Image: eParkeni.

Yes! That’s our initial reaction as the Patriotic Alliance, Freedom Front Plus and Democratic Alliance gazebos grow large before our eyes. Democracy in action, no fights, no shoving. Eish! Then I’m brought back down to earth by our colleague, Jasper Cook, writing on our associate site, Toverview. He is one of those rare people who calls it as he sees it. He has written penetratingly on these issues, and as I stand at the corner of Kerkstraat and some other street, everything he’s written about the political landscape suddenly stares me in the face.

The Freedom Front Plus gazebo Image: eParkeni.

The DA gazebo. Image: eParkeni.

The PA looks coloured, the DA and FF+ look white, and the EFF looks black. And there I stand; I can’t but think how the more these things change, the more they seem like 50 years ago (yeah yeah, a bit of a reach, I know). Still stupidly outdated. No point complaining now, though — it is what it is. Frustrated, I wanted to put away my pen, file the story, and just hole up and wait for the results. After all, there really is nothing new for our readers — not even a scandal. Until a buddy picks me up and unwittingly points out something: the posters on the streetlights.

Notice, he says, how they’ve suddenly grown larger.
Me: Huh?
Buddy: The ANC ones, look!

So what? I ask. Turns out, quite a bit. According to BusinessTech, ‘Posters may not exceed 0,9m x 0,6m (AO size), and the main lettering height must be at least 50mm.’ My buddy is certain that the new ANC posters, put up a few days earlier, contravene the law – a sly, last-minute move, like the president scoring himself some airtime on the national broadcaster. The DA has since gone to court about that one, hoping Ramaphosa will personally fork out a R200 000 fine and forfeit at least one percent of his party’s vote.

I doubt our billionaire First Citizen would care much about the R200 000. He had more stashed in a couch at one point. The ‘one percent’ pound of flesh would be a first in the country, meaning no legal precedent – just a huge open door for appeals and re-appeals in the courts. But by then, the party would likely be in power, so ja …

An outsize ANC election poster, suddenly dwarfing the DA and EFF. Image: eParkeni.

As for the posters, I tell my friend that, in order to be a reporter worth his salt, I will need a ladder and measuring tape. Until then, I will make no comments, and stake no claims; just hobble back home to file another South African election story. Sadly, the next will only be in five years’ time. I hope, by then, my fellow countrymen will have what they were voting for today.

Post-voting tipple for a few EFF ‘fighters’. Image: eParkeni.

A few ANC faithful enjoying the day off. Image: eParkeni.


FEATURED IMAGE: The election gets under way in the Kuyasa Community Hall. Image: eParkeni.

This is an edited version of a feature on Phakamisa Mayaba’s website, eParkeni. Used with permission.

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