Hendrick Mphande and Floor Zoet
A HIGHLY charged political theme marked Freedom Day celebrations in Nelson Mandela Bay yesterday, with rallies and high- profile politicians hitting the campaign trail and urging communities to vote for change.
High-ranking COPE, UDM and African Community Movement (ACM) leaders used the day to spread their manifestos and stress the importance of people voting in the May 18 municipal elections in three weeks’ time.
UDM leader Bantu Holomisa said while the ANC had helped achieve political change, there were “problems of the stomach” which they had failed to solve and which would lose it votes.
The ACM, which says it is made up of 90% church leaders, said at a rally at the Daku Hall in Kwazakhele that Bay residents were getting “poorer and hungrier” under the ANC, and a dramatic political change was needed.
Archbishop Cuyeni Mzaza said: “We are here to convince the people to vote, and make a change.
“The metro is being led by one main political party which … is making wrong decisions.”
COPE mayoral candidate Smuts Ngonyama braved the icy conditions to interact with residents in the New Brighton area.
“What I have seen today confirms what we have always been advocating as COPE. Our people live in extremely unbearable conditions. We have to do extraordinary work to turn things around,” Ngonyama said.
Residents told the COPE delegation the ANC’s promise of better lives for all had yet to be fulfilled.
“For the past 15 years, the ANC has been promising to build houses for us,” said Tiny Maxela, a resident of Red Location Block 40. “We are now threatened with forced removal to the Chetty area, which is far away. We were born here and we will not go anywhere.”
Mzaza said the ACM would contest the local government elections.
“The political leaders here now aren’t people from the community, or local leaders. The ACM can bring that to the metro and we are 100% willing to work with other parties, for example the DA.”
ACM member Rochelle Ntsuwdwana said: “The city now has one driver, and this can’t be. This one driver is the ANC. It is leading now, but people are getting hungrier and poorer and the richer are getting richer. People want change, and people need change. We are here to bring that change.”
Ngonyama came across former champion boxer Fundisile “Kid Zanta” Ralo during his door-to-door campaign in New Brighton. Ralo has been living in squalid conditions in Red Location for 12 years. “That is one of the greatest boxers. I am sure many of his peers are looking for him,” said Ngonyama, firmly shaking hands with him.
Ralo, formerly of Grahamstown, seeming to have lost the speed and spark which made him famous in the boxing ring, slowly emerged from his one-bedroom shack with few people recognising him. He echoed the desire for a better life.
Ngonyama said his heart bled to see people still living in such squalor. He said that while he was still an ANC MEC, a resolution had been taken to improve the lives of the people in the shanty town of Red Location, but nothing had happened. He promised to investigate what had happened to the project.
“As COPE, we would like to say to the people in this area, if you give us the mandate, we will give this area a priority. This is very dehumanising and the dignity of our people has been destroyed.”
He urged politicians to refrain from acting for the sake of votes when visiting people living in informal areas.
In his Freedom Day speech, Holomisa was gracious, unexpectedly crediting the ANC for the progress it had made since 1994.
But the country was facing even worse problems now, he said. “The ruling party has deviated from its original mandate. Instead, we are now involved in the battle of the stomach.”
Addressing hundreds of people who braved the windy and cold weather, the UDM leader urged nominated councillors for his party to work with other officials because “what is important is that South Africa should be a winner. Do not regard the ANC as the enemy”. He said “all the people want is for their grievances to be listened to”, adding that the image of the police had been dented in the wake of the recent shooting of a protester in Ficksburg.
He also welcomed four DA councillors from the northern areas and ANC members who were defecting to his party, saying they would bring much-needed experience to the UDM.
For the first time, Holomisa said his party would contest 60 wards. “What makes us happy is that these wards were formerly held by the ruling party.”
He cautioned nominated councillors to position themselves as servants of the people and warned them against creating false hope in their constituencies.
“Be humble when we canvass for votes. The situation is volatile and people are angry. They say they have lost hope in politicians. Humble yourselves and take the position of a servant of the people,” Holomisa said.
He also warned against interfering in the tender process, saying municipal officials must refrain from employing people based on political affiliation.
Fifteen years after the ANC came to power, Holomisa said, it was a disgrace there were still people living in poor conditions without the basic necessities of life. “We are liberated politically, but there are also a lot of problems we need to address.
I do not know how councillors can still expect people to vote for them when their conditions have not changed,” he said.