WILBUR Tsie speaks of former president Nelson Mandela as though he knew the late global icon well. “We were both born in 1918,” says Tsie, a prominent resident of Mandela Village, an informal township in Seyisi, Port Elizabeth.
At 98, Tsie’s wrinkles and gaunt appearance tell the story of a long life of hardship that included 15 years’ incarceration for his role in the struggle against apartheid.
But, he says, besides the state’s old-age grant, he is not enjoying the fruits of liberation as he stays in a corrugated iron shack and uses a bucket system toilet.
“There is nothing they (the African National Congress) did for us, we starve,” says Tsie, who relies on unemployed neighbours to fetch his medication from a state clinic nearby.
Mandela Village is littered with many shacks like his, and malnourished dogs play in small rubbish heaps, while water seeps through the underground water pipe systems onto the roads.
Women gathered at communal taps to do their laundry yesterday morning in the aftermath of yet another pre-dawn “service delivery protest”, where tyres were set alight, blocking Matomela Street, one of the township’s major roads.
The residents wanted to register their grievances, including fresh demands for houses. The call to end the indignity of the bucket toilet system was their chief demand, and they threatened to use the new way of protesting — dumping poo in public places.
Despite numerous undertakings by the government to eradicate it, Eastern Cape has the highest number of households that still rely on the bucket system.
Yesterday’s protest coincided with the presence of ANC bigwigs in Port Elizabeth ahead of the party’s local government elections manifesto launch on Saturday.
Nelson Mandela Bay — the sixth biggest city in SA — has been one of the most hotly contested areas in the run-up to the August 3 local government elections, with the Democratic Alliance putting the ANC under pressure.
The ANC fell below the 50% mark in the provincial ballot during the 2014 general elections. While this is not the most reliable indicator of future outcomes, it is still considered to be an important indicator of the party’s continued decline in this industrial city. Some of yesterday’s protesters, mainly unemployed females in their 30s, said they would not take part in the coming elections.
“It’s better that we don’t register and that we don’t vote because the ANC is not doing anything. It (not voting) could result in a change. Because they said in 2014 there won’t be any informal settlements any more, and no bucket system. Now it’s 2016. From 1990 until 2016, how many years (is that)?” says Siyabonga Mjekula.
Mjekula dropped out of high school in Grade 11. He has held a number of short-term jobs including working as a security guard. His friends, also unemployed, also do not have matric.
They feel staying away during the elections is the best way to show their disappointment at successive ANC administrations in the Eastern Cape’s economic capital. Some of the protesters say they would like to vote, but feel intimidated by their fellow protesters.
Bongeka Nelani, 29, pointed at the protesters in the road, separated from police by burning debris: “You see all those people there? They are saying ‘no house, no vote, no registration’.
“On registration (weekend), they went to the voting station to beat up people up who went to register, so we didn’t get to register.” Wearing a yellow ANC T-shirt, Tsie says that he joined the fight against minority rule in 1945, but his political home has since changed.
“We can’t see what the party (ANC) is doing … even if the ANC was not doing much then, we were united, we had hope that one day we would get something as people. We’ve been living in shacks since 1990,” he says.
“It is better for a cow because it can sleep anywhere in the veld. When times are tough, you don’t know where you will go, where you will sleep, what you will eat? Yes, Zuma gives us a bit of money with the old-age social pension, but it is not enough,” Tsie says.
He feels change is needed — fast. “We can’t say the ANC abandoned us, but rather that since (Nelson) Mandela passed on, the ANC lost its way,” he says.