S’thandiwe Hlongwane, the second most famous resident of Nxamalala village at Nkandla, looks a bit awkward in her ANC Women’s League volunteer T-shirt.
She’s standing in the front garden of the house built for her by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) on the eve of the 2014 national and provincial elections.
But Hlongwane looks less fearful than she did on the day of the handover, when hundreds of angry locals tried to stop EFF leader Julius Malema from arriving.
Back then, she wore an EFF shirt, which has since been replaced by a yellow one.
This year, Hlongwane hopes to vote alongside President Jacob Zuma at Ntolwane Primary School on Wednesday for ANC candidate Bongokwakhe Mbambo – a local shopkeeper in a four-way contest with Phumlani Ngubane of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), the DA’s Eric Shange and the EFF’s Nondumiso Ndawonde, the only female candidate contesting the ward.
With an average monthly income of only R1 200 and a 92% unemployment rate, while Ward 14 has relatively decent government facilities, schools and road networks, its 8 000 residents are bitterly poor and dependent on grants.
“I’m voting for jobs and development of the area,” says Hlongwane, who refuses to discuss her “conversion”.
“There are no jobs here and no shops. We need a shopping centre here so people can earn money and spend money here. We also need RDP houses,” she adds.
The ANC holds a massive majority in the ward, taking 75% of the vote in 2014 after 2011’s 45%.
Its dominance is apparent in the posters on the roadside as well as the fact that the only campaign activity on Thursday and Friday was ANC volunteers getting ready to go and canvass in Nkandla town, some 50km away.
EFF Uthungulu regional secretary Nkululeko Ngubane, who is running the party’s campaign at Nkandla, says while some residents have received them “warmly”, there has been intimidation of residents associated with the EFF.
“You have to understand, life is different in Ward 14. People depend on Zuma’s patronage for survival. They don’t look at him as a politician. They look at him as a king. It’s very hard to campaign under those circumstances, but we are still hopeful that we will make an impact,” says Ngubane.
Ngubane says the EFF may, however, end up as a kingmaker in the municipality as the ANC and IFP are “neck and neck”.
“This could become very interesting. We are in this to win, but if the situation arises where we are the kingmaker in the municipality, the EFF leadership will decide what course to take.”