South Africa: Politics of Nonchalance in the Mpumalanga Backyard of David Mabuza

Then President Jacob Zuma, left, with then Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa during a 2015 Women's Day celebration in Sasolburg in the Free State.

Cars roared by just metres from Lucia Mokhonto's road-side fruit stall near Barberton in Mpumalanga, on a sunny Tuesday in early April.

She has sat here almost every day for the past seven years, hoping the alluring sight of fresh oranges will tempt customers to her stall, one of four on the same dusty stretch.

The 41-year-old divorced mother of two slumps wearily into a plastic chair next to a large rock after carrying some bananas and a big bag of oranges to a man in a 4x4, returning with R30 clutched triumphantly in her hand.

The money is quickly stowed in a secret fold of her clothing.

She picks up a small rock and quickly settles into a well-practiced rhythm breaking open a mound of pecan nuts with a smaller rock, one by one.

She smiles at a mention of the sickly sweet smell of the fruit in the midday heat. She is probably immune to the odours.

When she has released all the nuts from their hard outer shell Mokhonto will fill small plastic bags with a handful in each, also to be sold.

She spends eight hours a day, on average, at her stall with only a cheap battery operated FM radio for company or an occasional chat with a passerby.

Mokhonto lives in a nearby township, in a small corrugated steel shack. She has never had running water, electricity or a toilet.

She spends her days eking out a meagre living, a little more than a kilometre down the same road as that of a sprawling compound with seemingly impregnable high walls lined with electric fences.

It's the home of Deputy President David Mabuza, the controversial former premier of Mpumalanga.

Mokhonto knows what he looks like, knows his house is there. Everyone knows, she says.

She has never met him.

Daily bread

"Nothing can move my life," Mokhonto told News24. "No ANC, no EFF. Nothing."

"I am not voting for any party. I don't have a home, no electricity, no RDP, you see. Long story."

Mokhonto declined to be photographed. She felt it may put her in harm's way.

This part of the province is far-removed from the political scandals dominating the urban dinner table talk.

As the unending waves of scandal broke out from testimony at the State Capture Commission of Inquiry and in media reports, here, life is far simpler. And much tougher.

The day-to-day concerns (for black and white alike) do not factor in who will become president, or run the local government.

A home, safety and security, access to medical facilities and basic amenities dominate the conversation.

In a province of roughly four million people, a little over 1.3 million voted in the 2014 national election. A staggering 2.7 million people, mostly living in far-flung rural areas, did not bother to register or make their way to a polling station.

In Mokhonto's opinion the reason for this is clear. "Nothing can move my life" she said.

The ANC took home 78% of the vote in 2014 and despite old political battles leading to new challengers, the party is likely to win the province again.

For the opposition parties the alluring thought of more than 2 million people who have not yet stepped up to vote should be a drawcard to campaign harder in the rural areas of the province.

But for Mokhonto political battles live on the fringes of society, on the periphery. For South Africans like her, the battle for survival takes centre stage.

Only God can save politics

Across the road from Mokhonto's stall, News24 saw a man seemingly inspecting the fences around a macadamia nut plantation. He was astride a rumbling white Ducati motorcycle, a dog yapping at his heels.

Theo Kruger (52) has managed this farm for nine months. He explained that if God was put first "the rest would fall in place".

His vote would be going to the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), who best represented his Christian values.

He was one of only three people News24 spoke to who had a clear path chosen in the upcoming national election on May 8.

In central Barberton, a 10 kilometre drive away, the owner of a butchery that has been in town for 30 years, Rassie Breedt, 48, also believes that no political party has all the answers.

"Hulle almal praat mos maar hulle eie kak stories," he said, which translated means all political parties talk nonsense, in his view.

He mentions Freedom Front Plus in passing. But wavers later.

"Nothing changes," he said.

Down the road from Breedt, 25-year-old Mbali Dlamini works at a retail shop that sells knock-off brand name clothing and shoes.

She also won't be voting, and seemed embarrassed when pressed over why. But she soon delved into a story about a gang of young, armed men who have been terrorising the township where she lives with her two small children.

They call themselves "Gang Busha", or "Panga Boys".

Dlamini has lost confidence that any political party could bring meaningful change. She spoke of a high-school child that was killed by members of the gang.

"They came to fetch him from inside the school. He died later in the clinic."

If children were not safe inside their schools, she argued, no difference would be made through voting.

"The police never come. They are scared of these boys. At night, I stay at home. It used to be fun to go out and see my friends. DD [Mabuza] must come sort it out."

I came for Mandela

Outside the Baberton MultiSave, Elias Nhamunda, 63, sits in an ANC shirt and ANC branded beret. A green tablecloth emblazoned with the ANC logo covers a small wooden table on which rests a pay phone, some sweets and a few packs of cigarettes he sells as loose for a few rands each.

Nhamunda is seated behind an old sewing machine, and has earned his living fixing clothes on the streets of Barberton since 2007.

"I am a proud ANC supporter. I am not changing my vote soon. I came in 1998 for [Nelson] Mandela."

President Cyril Ramaphosa was a "good president" he said, and Nhamunda hoped he remain in office after May 8.

Nhamunda has running water and electricity at his home in the Emjindi township. But no toilet.

For him, the ruling ANC party and the vision it had for the country is why he made the trek from Maputo. They remain the only option for Nhamunda.

News24 also interviewed Tienie Barnard, a 70-year-old retired mine worker from the West Rand who was born in Barberton.

These days he works as a car guard, to make some "pocket money" and pass the time.

Barnard says he has never voted and prefers to just "go with the flow".

George Maluleka, 28, proudly sported an Economic Freedom Fighters jacket as he walked with a group of other young men, dwarfed by imposing, well-kept homes that dominate the hillside overlooking central Barberton.

He says he "followed" EFF leader Julius Malema when he left the ANC Youth League and started the EFF in 2013.

The EFF would have his vote, because of its promises to correct historical wrongs and make the economy accessible for all.

"We must all share," he said, waving a hand at the beautiful homes around him, a legacy of Barberton's rich gold-mining history.

Maluleka does not have a job and lives in a nearby township, amid poverty and often, lawlessness. He registered for work as part of a local Extended Public Works Programme when News24 spoke to him.

"Malema's ideology must happen in South Africa. A lot of differences must be made to happen."

News24 left Barberton after a day walking its streets with a clearer understanding of how some people here feel about the elections - they do not feel the result would impact their lives in any significant way.

Very few are aware that their homegrown leader David Mabuza has ascended to the office of the deputy president.

A lamp post at the exit of Barberton is adorned with three posters, two bearing the smiling faces of ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa and EFF leader Julius Malema. The third, a DA poster promising better policing.

Barberton's bustling streets may one day quieten down as the life-span of nearby gold mines reach their end. But one thing is certain. The posters will come down after May 8, and life will continue much as it has for the past decade while the same smiling faces and promises will be largely forgotten. Until the next election.

Source: <b>News24</b>

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