Most people who know me are aware that I have been an ANC supporter for many years – formally since 1979, when I joined the ANC underground in Botswana, courtesy of the late Marius Schoon and and the late Jenny Curtis. I was detained, banned and restricted at various times after that, partly because the apartheid authorities had a strong idea of where my loyalties lay, though they were unable to prove anything.
In 1990, after the 2 February speech by then president FW de Klerk which announced the unbanning the ANC, PAC, SACP and other parties, I was one of the founder members of the new Yeoville Branch of the ANC and served on the Branch Executive Committee. In 1994, I was nominated to serve on the Gauteng legislature as a an ANC candidate, but did not make it onto the list. I was nominated by members of our ANC branch to serve as Ward Councillor in 1998, but was beaten at branch elections.
In 2000, I was appointed by the National Executive Committee of the ANC to serve on the Gauteng Interim Leadership Core (GILC) after the disbanding of the then dysfunctional Gauteng Provincial Executive Committee. I was part of the Ward Task Team that re-etablished our Joe Slovo branch in Ward 67, Johannesburg in the early 2000s.
So I guess it’s not surpising that there are members of the organisation who cannot understand why I have been taking a non-partisan stance in respect of my role in community development work in Yeoville Bellevue. They are puzzled that I produce Yeovue News, a community newspaper which is not aligned to the ANC, and that the paper carries information about other political parties. Most recently, I was told that I was being disloyal because I carried information about the candidates from all parties for the four wards which have a section of Yeoville Bellevue as part of their area of operation.
On Saturday 14 May, I probably confused people even more by arranging an election debate in the Yeoville Recreation Centre in my capacity as editor of Yeovue News. I made a point, at the start of the meeting, of letting the large audience know that we had tried to reach and involve candidates of all 14 parties plus independents contesting the election in the four wards. We only managed to get three parties and three independents. The parties included the ANC, the DA and COPE. Two of the independents are part of the same grouping. So, on the day, we have 12 candidates up on the stage presenting themselves (and their parties) to the people of Yeoville Bellevue.
I also let the meeting know that I and the panel assisting me were all people who naturally had political views and supported one or other political party. However, on this occasion, we had suspended our political affiliations and were participating in a non-partisan manner. This was also true of the community Street Patrollers who were providing security and had been briefed to deal equally with any disruptive elements in the audience, regardless of their political affiliations.
The meeting went very well, considering. It did fall apart at the end when supporters of one of the political parties decided to ignore calls to sit down and keep sufficiently silent to allow the candidates to be heard. There had been sporadic incidents earlier, for example, when a supporter of one candidate expressed her frustration by speaking through a loud hailer while one of the candidates was speaking. But it was only at the end that unruly elements caused one of the Patrollers to discharge some pepper spray as a means of controlling those who would not follow their intructions to sit down and allow speakers to be heard.
Of course, I was accused (and continue to be accused) of favouring one or other of the candidates or parties in the course of the debate. But the fact that ANC supporters thought I was being unfair in my allocation of time and that I was creating an unnecessary platform for independents, the fact the independents felt I was biased towards the ANC, the fact that a COPE candidate felt I didn’t give them his party enough time – all of this tells me that I succeeded in being sufficiently neutral as to do justice to the process.
It was a great event, in which my two children participated – probably their first involvement at 18 and 17 in a political gathering. It was robust, there was a healthy degree of heckling and, until the turmoil fifteen minutes before the end of what was a three hour gathering, everyone was reasonably respectful to everyone else. So I think we done good.
Now to see rhe results of the election and what is going to happen afterwards. The two critical questions we asked all candidates was:
- how are you going to deal with the fact that the area was going to have four councillors sharing responsibility for the challenges facing it? would you be able and willing to work with other councillors, even if they were from another political party, in the interests of promoting a common development agenda for the Yeoville Bellevue area?
- what is your message to the migrants – voting and non-voting – of the area, given that migrants make up at least 50% of the community and there have been rumblings of xenophobia in the past? (I arranged for this question to be put by a migrant born in Nigeria, now a citizen and voter of South Africa)
So for the most important candidates for the four wards, these items are now firmly on the agenda (they all answered the questions very positively, I am happy to report) as we go into the election. It means that we can remind those who get elected of these issues and of their responses during the election debate, thereby holding them accountable for whatever they may have said on the day.
This election is going to be very interesting, as are the development politics of Yeoville Bellevue after the voting is done and dusted.