“I want to see Ramaphosa, he will give us back the electricity!” Shouts 14-year-old Sbusiso Mbele, running towards the presidential convoy. Campaigning for the ANC ahead of local elections in South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa on Saturday promised residents of a poor neighborhood in Soweto to improve their daily lives.
In Nomzamo Park, there has been no electricity for almost three years. The theft of copper cables and a fire at an aging and poorly maintained facility owned by the public company Eskom have plunged this part of the township into darkness.
In a yellow and green leather jacket, the colors of the party, Cyril Ramaphosa gets out of a luxury sedan, surrounded by a large escort. A few steps away, a group of children with dusty feet chant “Ramaphosa! ANC!” A few minutes before the arrival of the official convoy, a big brother member of the African National Congress had made them rehearse.
On November 1, South Africans will choose their advisers from more than 250 municipalities. Elections which will be a test for the ANC, in power for 27 years but whose popularity has been declining at the polls for several years.
In front of his house with a tin roof, Fezile Mnqokoyi, 27, awaits the visit of the Head of State. She wants to show him the sores on her two-year-old son Enzo’s legs because of the dirty water. She wants to remind him of the party’s promises to give young people jobs.
At home, it stinks of paraffin. Like most of the inhabitants of the neighborhood without electricity, she uses this wax derived from petroleum to cook, to heat the bath water. She knows this is what is causing her little boy’s coughing fits, but has no other solution. And she doesn’t have enough to pay for the drugs to treat him either.
So when the opportunity arises, she whispered to the president: “We want electricity, we want work. Today we suffer, sometimes we don’t even have the money for paraffin.”
The head of state nods, promises to fix it all. He claims to have asked Eskom, in great financial difficulty like most of the country’s public enterprises, to solve the electricity problems in Soweto. Then he walks towards another house, followed by a swarm of big arms and journalists.
“The ANC always makes promises, empty promises”, plague Fezile Mnqokoyi, his son hanging on the back.
The rest of the president’s journey is precise. He still enters a few houses chosen in advance: “Register”, he repeats, encouraging the inhabitants to register on the electoral roll to vote ANC.
For Siphosethu Sisilana, 31, who also lives in the township, that won’t be enough. In the last polls, he did not vote because he still refused to give his voice to the ANC. “Today I went to register but this time I will give my vote to another party,” he said determined.
After a few hours of door to door, Cyril Ramaphosa climbs to the top of a party truck, on a piece of wasteland strewn with garbage. “Amandla!” (Power), he says with reference to the fight against apartheid.
And despite all the recriminations, the fed up, the lack of electricity, unemployment, empty houses and refrigerators, the small crowd present raises their fists: “Long live the ANC”.