FORBES AFRICA’s photojournalists immortalize the tension and elation of the South African elections in May that saw the African National Congress win for the sixth time since 1994.
In what was a landmark 25 years since the first democratic elections, South Africa registered, voted and elected the African National Congress (ANC) for the sixth time to govern the nation again for the next five years. The 2019 elections saw many surprises and plenty more political action compared to the previous polls.
In the run-up to election day, political parties (48 in all) emphasized the country’s socio-economic challenges such as unemployment, education, housing and the contentious issue of land expropriation.
On May 8, the day the country cast its vote, voters woke early to congregate and line up at the 22,924 voting stations strewn across the country.
I was among them, a citizen also doubling as a photojournalist on the quest to document this historic election, my camera strapped around my neck and my constant companion.
This Wednesday morning was particularly cold but voters were in sweaters and armed with their identity books to have a say in South African politics with an ‘X’ mark on the ballot paper.
Mmusi Maimane, the leader of the opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), was among those at the Presbyterian Church in Dobsonville, Soweto; the township where he was born.
His arrival created a frenzy as international and local media wrestled with each other for the perfect shot.
After casting his vote and walking out of the church, he addressed the public.
“On such a historic day, it is important to vote in Soweto with the people of Soweto to express hope and a future for our country. Soweto, to me, represents the home of where the struggle is and now we’re entering into a new struggle for jobs for many South Africans. I remember, vividly and well, when I played in these streets and I remember too well the release of Nelson Mandela, therefore today, I urge that we come and cast our votes,” Maimane said.
He spoke about the new struggle.
“To me, there could be nothing more special, nothing more historic than being able to express our future. Vote for the future of this country and for the unemployed South Africans; it’s a new struggle and we are fighting for the protection of freedom and advancement of freedom.”
Post the election results, Maimane was the first DA leader to not have grown more supporters, whereas the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), with the third highest number of votes, gained more in all South African provinces except the Northern Cape.
A few kilometers from Dobsonville is Mzimhlophe Hostel. A hostel among many others in Soweto that erupted with service delivery protests prior to the elections. On election day, it was more peaceful and locals were going about their daily lives.
In the same vicinity is a squatter camp (informal settlement) allegedly set on fire weeks before the elections.
Residents and brothers Mduduzi (32) and Kwenzi Gwala (22) came to Johannesburg looking for employment.
“This is my first time voting this year; I wish the economy could strengthen so we can move out of the squatter camps and live in houses. Our camp burned around the Easter holidays while we were at church. We used to sell African beer and our stock got burned along with the money and clothes that were inside. All we have is what we are wearing now,” Kwenzi says.
About 12 kilometers away was where national president and president of the ANC Cyril Ramaphosa cast his vote in his hometown of Chiawelo, at a local primary school.
The supporters of various parties, the media and voters were out in full force to witness their president in Soweto.
“The nation and the people are energized. They can see their votes are heralding a new dawn. This is a vote that reminds me of 1994 when the people were just as excited as this because they were heralding a new period, a new future for our country,” said Ramaphosa.
“Today, this is what I am picking up, our people are excited about what lies tomorrow and they want to vote for a government that is going to serve them, that is going to address their needs and aspirations. So, I am truly humbled by the turnout that I’ve seen here.
“There is a great vibe and it’s a vibe for democracy, it’s a vote also for our democratic system that we’ve been building over the last 25 years. So, 25 years later, we still have a nation that is breathing confidence and excitement casting their vote. Today, I will go home to sleep very peacefully like I did last night.
“This vote is about confidence, it is about the future and it is about us that are going to be elected to work a lot harder, much harder than we have in the past to realize the ideals, wishes and hopes of our people, so this, to me, is like a rocket booster for democracy and we are going to build a great country because we will be doing so standing on the shoulders of our people,” Ramaphosa said.
Like the DA, the ANC lost more supporters nationally; Gauteng province was the gold prize, for the first time since 1999, the ANC had to battle to remain above 50% to secure the province.
Thumbs Up In Vibrant Yeoville
The grey, gloomy weather did not dampen the excitement as South African citizens, young and old, made their way to their respective voting booths on May 8.
First-time voters enthusiastically posted images of their thumbs on social media after their turn polling. Twenty five years post-apartheid, they did what voters in 1994 could not – flaunt their inky fingers to the world.
This year marked the sixth democratic elections since the fall of racial segregation.
When former President Nelson Mandela’s handcuffs were removed, a nation was freed from years of brutal laws that marginalized people of color in South Africa.
As a young ‘colored’ woman born in 1995, there’s another layer to my identity as a ‘born-free’ citizen.
I use the terms ‘colored’ and ‘born-free’ loosely, only because of the numerous socio-cultural connotations attached to my identity.
On May 8, I joined the scores of people from the lively Yeoville suburb, once a cosmopolitan source of pride, but now largely associated with crime and discord in Johannesburg.
As a lone female photojournalist in one of the notorious parts of the inner city, I found myself in the cold with a groveling stomach, and without a cent to my name.
The 1970s had seen Yeoville come alive as night clubs and art and music galleries opened up along the neighbourhood’s main commercial strip of Rocky Raleigh Street.
This was before the tightening of segregation policies. Under apartheid, members of the community were strong supporters of the ANC and mobilized around the organization when it had been officially banned.
ANC stalwart Joe Slovo has his political roots in the community.
Yeoville’s political scene, just like the culture, was one of the most vibrant in South Africa in the 1980s.
It still is today, and on election day, it was even more apparent as the top three contesting parties gathered outside the Yeoville Recreation Center.
The ANC, EFF and the DA were set up in front of the voting station.
The corner was filled with people singing and dancing to struggle songs.
Laughter and playful disputes broke out between party members, and when a passer-by showed concern, an ANC comrade responded with a trite: “We are a family here, no one is fighting.”
As voting came to an end, light peeked through the clouds, even as the crowd continued to sing, this time, more enthusiastically.
The light, for them, was the ray of hope that their ‘X’ marks brought.
On this day, there was no crime or chaos. The community showed me unrivalled hospitality and fed me the whole day.
Water, a chair or anything I needed for comfort was only a request away.
My camera loved them and they returned the love.
The future is questionable but for the people of Yeoville, tomorrow is just another day filled with struggle.
I returned to the office with a full stomach and a newfound love for a place I was initially apprehensive about.