Tue. Jul 16th, 2019

In Coligny, racial tension, unemployment dominates election conversation

South Africans headed to the polls on 8 May 2019 for the country’s sixth’s democratic election. In Coligny, the conversation was grim.

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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.

Read: Follow our live coverage of results from the 2019 general elections here.

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

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People queue to vote for South Africa’s national and provincial elections at a polling station in the Tlhabologang township in Coligny on 8 May 2019. Photo: LUCA SOLA / AFP

“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.

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An elderly couple receive their ballots to vote for South Africa’s national and provincial elections at a polling station in the centre of Coligny. Photo: LUCA SOLA / AFP

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 R12 500 rands
compared to R3000 for black workers.

“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.”

Echoes of 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.

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People queue to vote for South Africa’s national and provincial elections. Photo: LUCA SOLA / AFP

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.

“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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