President Cyril Ramaphosa returned to the dusty streets of Chiawelo, Soweto on Wednesday morning, a place where he used to play football with other runty street urchins and proposed to little girls with lollipops.
The wind whistled through the township, sirens rang across the township and a South African Police Services (SAPS) helicopter hovered in the sky while an Onyx black drone flew over the school where the president was to cast his vote.
In Chiawelo, a town created by the apartheid regime to house Tsonga and Venda-speaking people, residents pushed journalists and their camera crews aside, shoved and jostled to take pictures with Ramaphosa, requesting him to stop and smile, shake a hand and sign an autograph.
Despite the onset of the winter chill, residents of Chiawelo emerged from their renovated four-roomed matchbox houses to greet their neighbour who later became a famous lawyer, trade union leader and who many believe is the greatest politician in South Africa since Nelson Mandela.
The family of South African photographer Shiraaz Mohamed, abducted in Syria in early 2017, was also present to plead with Ramaphosa to intervene and save his life after a new video surfaced last week that he was still alive while in captivity in Syria.
“We want the president to help us,” said Shirley Brijlal, the former wife of Mahomed.
“We have just started our third Ramadan with him in captivity. We said to President Ramaphosa – please help Shiraaz to get released from Syria. It’s now a matter of life and death. It’s been more than 860 days.”
There were representatives from Namibia’s SWAPO, Mozambique’s Frelimo, Angola’s MPLA, Zimbabwe’s Zanu PF and a group of international observers, AU observers and the head of AU Observer Mission and former Tanzanian president Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, among others.
The majority of residents of Soweto voted for the Economic Freedom Front (EFF) and the Democratic Alliance (DA) during the 2016 Local Government Elections, a move which saw the ANC being ejected from the City of Joburg Metropolitan. During the 2016 Local Government Elections, the ANC won 45% of the votes, the DA 38% and the EFF 11 percent in Johannesburg, which includes most of Soweto.
‘No support here for Ramaphosa’
A loud, jaundiced and angry EFF party agent said outside the voting station that Ramaphosa was in Chiawelo to regain lost support for his party.
“Chiawelo – in fact the whole of Soweto, is no longer the stronghold of the ANC. Ramaphosa must stop playing games,” said the EFF party agent.
“What does he want here today? Why is here? Why is he not voting in Venda where he comes from … He must go and vote in Venda. Our CIC Julius Malema is voting in Seshego, Limpopo. He must do the same. We are sick and tired of the ANC.”
Another EFF party supporter, Jay Mhlongo (29) said Ramaphosa’s return to Chiawelo was a cheap publicity stunt by the ANC.
“He was born here but this doesn’t mean anything. He has no support. He must not come here and talk nonsense. The ANC no longer enjoys support in Chiawelo and many parts of Soweto. The EFF is now the biggest party in Soweto. We are growing like popcorns Sir! Young and old people now believe in us. Our support is growing and will shock many people when the results are announced,” said Mhlongo.
“We have a great manifesto which talks about land, housing and education. I urge you to read too. I hope everybody reads our elections manifesto.”
A Democratic Alliance party agent and a former ANC Youth League firebrand, Themba Maluleke (33), said Ramaphosa was not the biblical Messiah he is made out to be by the social media.
“Do they think he is Messiah? He is misleading our people. He is from here but we don’t like what he has done. He was part of the leadership collective that sold our country to the wealthy Gupta family that collapsed our government and stole millions of rands of taxpayers’ money. He is the same as Jacob Zuma. They are all the same.”
After casting his vote with his wife Tshepo, Ramaphosa addressed local and foreign media at the school, a stone’s throw away from his family home where he was born and raised.
ANC undergoing renewal
A jovial Ramaphosa urged everyone to go out and cast their vote in what has been described as the biggest election since 1994.
“It is only when you vote that you will be heard. If you don’t vote you will not be heard,” said Ramaphosa.
Ramaphosa said he was overjoyed by the massive voter-turnout in Soweto.
“People are still excited about casting their ballot 25 years after the advent of democracy and are still eager to vote for the government that serves them and represent their aspirations. I am really humbled by the voter turnout. I am going to sleep peacefully tonight after seeing this,” said Ramaphosa.
“This can only improve investor confidence in our country and grow the economy. This turnout is a confidence booster. This for me is fantastic. We are cognisant of the triple challenges of inequality, high unemployment and abject poverty. However, we are working to carry out the mandate we are getting from our people, which is to hasten service delivery.”
Ramaphosa said the ANC-led government was undergoing a period of renewal, introspection and self-correction.
“During our final rally on Sunday we admitted to the mistakes we made in the past and we said we are sorry for letting our people down. We are deeply sorry. Now knowing where we went wrong we are owning up to our mistakes and have established commissions such as the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, the PIC Commission of Inquiry and people will be held accountable for what they did. Never, never again must South Africa go through what happened in the past few years. We have learnt our lessons. That is why we are encouraging everyone to vote. It is only when you vote that you will be heard. If you don’t vote you won’t be heard.”
Ramaphosa left active politics in 1997 after losing to a bruising succession battle to Thabo Mbeki and only returned in 2012 as deputy president of the ANC – the oldest liberation movement in Africa.
In 2017, Ramaphosa was elected ANC president and became the president of South Africa in February 2018 after the national executive committee (NEC) of the governing party recalled president Jacob Zuma.
In recent months, Ramaphosa has been trying to unite the warring ANC factions and fight corruption following nine years of State Capture under Zuma.
As soon as he became president, he established the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, which is currently looking into allegations of corruption against Zuma and the wealthy, influential Gupta family who are accused of trying to influence political decisions.
Ramaphosa’s biggest challenge has been to strike a balance between those calling for radical issues such as land expropriation without compensation, and the interests of the business community, foreign investors and credit rating agencies.
In the last elections, the ANC secured 62.1% of the national vote – receiving 11 436 921 votes, which translated into 249 seats in the country’s National Assembly.
The party remained in control in eight of the country’s provinces, with the exception of the Western Cape, which remained under the Democratic Alliance (DA), which secured 59.38% of the provincial vote.
However, the ANC experienced a massive drop in their electoral support during the Local Government Elections in 2016, which saw the party losing key metros including the City of Tshwane, City of Johannesburg and the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro.
With Ramaphosa at the helm, the governing party hopes to increase its majority to more than 65% during the 2019 general elections.
The latest IPSOS poll predicts that the ANC could remain the ruling party after Wednesday’s national elections, with the DA continuing as the main opposition.