At the heart of South Africa’s elections lie racial tensions, unemployment

In 2017 Coligny became emblematic of the racial tensions which still haunt the country.
SA elections
An election official prepares the polling station for South Africa’s national and provincial elections at a polling station in Coligny on May 8, 2019. – South Africans voted on May 8 in the country’s sixth democratic general election since the end of apartheid in 1994. (Photo by LUCA SOLA / AFP)

In Coligny, a South African farming community ringed by cornfields, white voters arrived in cars to cast their ballots in the high school music hall.

In the neighbouring township, black voters arrived at a sparsely-decorated school on foot and wrapped up to keep out the cold.

“I don’t know the feeling of (having) grown up in a rich family — but I will ask my kids,” read a slogan on one of the blackboards in the More high school in Tlhabologang township.

“Twenty five years ago, we were voting for freedom,” said black civil servant, Mpho Nonyane, 33. 

“Now we are voting for economic freedom. There is still a long way (to go).”

In 1994 South Africa put an end to the racist apartheid regime and staged its first non-racial elections.

A quarter of a century later and the black majority has seen improvements — but glaring inequality persists.

The 27 percent national unemployment rate disproportionately affects the black majority where joblessness is 30.5 percent versus 8 percent among whites.

Average monthly salaries for whites are around 12,500 rands ($870) compared to 3,000 rands ($210) for black workers.

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“We want jobs,” said another of Coligny’s black voters, unemployed Katlego Dikupe, 20. 

“Sometimes there is no water here.”

“I would like to live in town but it is too expensive. The blacks still live in the townships and the whites in town.”

It is a reminder of the segregated apartheid era.

In 2017 Coligny became emblematic of the racial tensions which still haunt the country.

The town, bordered by towering grain silos and a railway track, was gripped by the killing of a young boy who was allegedly stealing sunflowers.

Two white farmers were convicted of the black teenager’s murder and sentenced to 23 and 18 years imprisonment.

“We want stability in our country and we want everyone to have a job,” said Loekie Mans, a retired 65-year-old as she voted at Coligny’s high school at dawn.

“People are turning (into) criminals because they don’t have jobs. If I had children and had no food to put on the table, I would steal.”

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‘Like during the apartheid’

Township resident Tlhoiwa Shole, 80, echoed Mans’ sentiment.

“We need jobs for our children. Otherwise they become crooks,” said Shole who added they hoped the vote would lead to “change”.

James Thato, 25, voted for the ruling African National Congress — in power since 1994 — when he voted for the first time in 2014.

But on Wednesday he voted for the main opposition Democratic Alliance.

“Since I don’t have a job, I changed party,” he said, criticising the “lack of trust” between blacks and whites.

“There is a supermarket in town, the staff has to go on a scale when they come to work and when they leave” to prevent thefts.

“Some whites here are very rude, like during the apartheid. But they are not all like that.”

Nearby township-dwellers heated themselves by burning rubbish as others played football on a pitch with no nets in the goals.

In the town centre Annette Hepburn, 55, prepared to vote for the first time since the 1992 referendum of whites which led to multi-race elections.

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“The country changed a lot, from very bad to worse,” said the receptionist who condemned “farm murders, child rapes, and a lack of respect”.

“I want to stop the (ruling) African National Congress and the (leftist) Economic Freedom Fighters. They will take the lands from the farmers and they will kill more white people.”

Enforced land redistribution is one of the leading campaign issues for the two parties, which have majority-black support.

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