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No Change No Vote: “Until there is a female ward councillor, I will not vote for any political party.”

Written by Nombulelo Shinta

“Until there is a female Ward Councillor, I will not vote for any Political Party.”

The expressions of a 22-year-old woman

As it gets closer to voting time in South Africa, I took some time to talk to a young female in Kwelerha about the upcoming elections. Aphele is a young woman in her early 20s from Gwaba village – she has never been anywhere but her village. She did her primary and high school education in Gwaba but, like many young people in the village, she hopes for a better life. Unlike her peers in the village, Aphele has not placed her hope for a better future in the government.

Our conversation with Aphele started as we were talking about the roads in Gwaba, which are so damaged that private cars cannot access some areas of the village. Aphele expressed how disappointed she is with the ruling party. She shared that people have voted hoping that things will be better, but the village has seen no improvements. This has made her embarrassed to say she is from Gwaba. Aphele and many others voted for the Ward 50 Councillor, who represents the ANC and they hoped that things would change as he grew up in the village. Like Aphele, he had never stayed or worked anywhere else but in the village, so the villagers put their trust in his leadership. However, Aphele said as soon as he got into power, he forgot about the village people and only enriched himself. She shared that the worst part is that the Councillor used to stay in Gwaba, but moved to another area in Kwelerha where much of the development is taking place. This area is known as Kwa Tuba where the infrastructure is much more modern and the roads are better than Gwaba. The whole Kwelerha area experiences water shortages regularly but this problem is extreme in Gwaba. Aphele is angry that the ward councillor, who is supposed to be supporting his community, has moved to areas of the village where he does not have to confront the infrastructure problems the rest of his people face.

Figure 1: Images of EFF party members campaigning for last minute votes at Kwelerha voting station (Photo taken by Anelitha Tukela)

Recently Aphele said many people who are representing different parties have been campaigning around the village, and whenever they get to her house she listens to everything they have to say. She said that after she had listened, she did not even consider their statements because they all make the same promises as other campaigns. Aphele has never voted in her life, and does not think she will ever vote as she has been disappointed by the African National Congress representatives, including the current ward Councillor. According to Aphelele, all the parties are the same, they only make promises to gain votes of the people and she believes that the parties have been using people, especially the young and elderly. According to Aphele, the government knows that young people are desperate for jobs and they use that to get votes. She has heard enough of the government's promises and will not be used anymore. Although she has never voted, she has seen the lives of those who have voted and they are not much better. She does not think it is a coincidence that the area in which the Ward Councillor resides is more developed and more beautiful than other areas. She expressed her frustration at his negligence asking "Why does the Government not take the time to recognize the struggles of the village?". She said if he could not make their situation better in Gwaba, there is nothing that his party can do. 

Aphele mentioned the extreme violence in the village. She recalls an event of a young man killing another man whom he caught sleeping with his girlfriend. Aphele was related to the man who was killed and said the perpetrator was arrested, however less than six years later he was released. She also mentioned a recent case of an elderly man who was attacked by a group of young men and nothing was ever done. In the space of three months, different people had been attacked in the village, making her nervous and uncomfortable to continue her life in the village. Moreover, the police are not responding as they should: even if people know who committed the crime, the police will still let the suspect go. She said recently another man was attacked and hit with a rock on his head, and when people discovered him the rock was still in his head. She said the man is currently in hospital, and that he cannot talk. Aphele said the area has become a war zone with increasing cases of gender-based violence, every week there is a new crime story and it has become worrisome for young females since they cannot fight back against the men committing these crimes.

Aphele believes that a female should be given a chance to lead, even if it is at a community level. She is adamant that if a Ward Councillor could be a female, she would see the issues of the community and she would make a difference. Inadequate roads and infrastructure make the lives of women even more difficult and if I female leader was appointed this would have been fixed. The current Ward Councillor, according to Aphelele, has been more concerned about sports activities and building sports fields which do not benefit women. Having a female Ward Councillor is her wish, but she does not think it will ever happen, as men seem to be in favour of only men leading. She recalls a lady that was competing with the Ward Councillor for elections, but people did not even consider putting her in the position because she was a lady. She said people would say terrible things about her – that she would never be good enough to be Ward Councillor. Aphele is convinced that a change in her village will only take place when a woman is given a chance to lead. She believes that women care about development and change, and, had they been given a chance, they would have made major differences. Whatever changes men are making are slow, and they have become deaf to the cry of many.

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