Vuwani: Exposing what the ballot means to young and old

Lucas Ledwaba

The biggest fear among elderly residents of the vast Limpopo province district of Vuwani was being denied the right to cast their votes in this week’s elections.

The Pro-Makhado Task Team announced after a meeting in Vyeboom on Tuesday that it was standing by its decision to boycott the elections.

Even though its leadership was at pains to explain that it would not stop people from voting on election day, the atmosphere in the area was already infested with fear.

This was not unjustifiable given that in the past at least 25 schools had been gutted by fire by unknown people as part of the continued efforts to force government to reincorporate Vuwani into the Makhado Local Municipality.

On Wednesday as he country went to the polls, it appeared it was the elderly who heeded the call ahead of the youth in troubled Vuwani.

Struggling for a vote

 “I have been voting for as long as I can remember,” said 84-year-old Munzhedzi Mbedzi.

She walked more than a kilometre on crutches, just to cast her vote at Ratshikwekwete Secondary School in Vuwani.

She sustained bad injuries after she fell before Easter, injuring her right leg. After a brief spell in hospital she was eventually forced to use crutches. As young people stood around the polling station on Wednesday morning complaining about their lot, unemployment, lack of business opportunities and the ongoing demarcation battle, she soldiered on her crutches in a quest to vote.

While special voting for people with special needs took place on Monday and Tuesday, she was unable to cast her vote since she was away receiving medical attention.

“I had gone to Tshilidzini Hospital for my check-up on Saturday. I then decided to stay at one of my relative’s houses. I only came back yesterday and had the hopes of voting. But due to the total shutdown, I could not vote,” she said.

She woke up in the early hours on election day with only one thing in mind. One of her daughters had indicated that a car would come to transport her to the polling station. But when the car did not arrive, she decided to challenge the little distance so that she could vote.

Mbedzi appeared to be extremely exhausted and had constant lapses of memory, but she was happy she had made it to the polling station.

With issues around basic service delivery such as water and housing prevalent in the area, she said she was hoping for change.

“I want the government to build a house for me because I currently live in a dilapidated one. Having a toilet in my yard would also be helpful because of the current state I’m in,” she said.

The election represented different hopes and dynamics for different generations. While high on the agenda of youths was the ongoing issue of demarcation and jobs, the elders wished for more comfort and basic services such as water and housing.

It appeared also, that many of the youth who boycotted the poll did not understand the impact of their decision not to vote and most crucially, why a decision was taken that they were not voting.

Youth and the meaning of the vote

A group of young people hung around the Ratshikwekwete Secondary School, one of the voting stations situated in Tshitungulwane village where Mbedzi cast her vote.

Clement Mukoma, 25, from Tshitungulwane said that all political parties were the same and that he did not see any reason for voting.

Being a born-free, Mukoma said in 2014 – the year he was eligible to vote for the first time –he could not care less about casting his vote. That has still not changed this year.

“I see voting as a waste of time. Despite water and sanitation not being provided, there is not even a single park for the kids to play at,” he said.

One of his friends, a 21-year-old who wished to remain anonymous and is currently doing grade 12, echoed Mukoma’s sentiments.

“Our roads are in a bad state and currently water and sanitation remain a huge challenge in our lives,” he told Mukurukuru Media.

“Maybe things will change after the election, and perhaps I might consider voting in the near future,” he concluded.

Elderly wisdom

The youth and elders approach the election from different sides and eras. The old remember the bad old days. They are haunted by memories of loved ones who perished at the hands of the oppressor and lands that were taken away at the stroke of a pen.

The youth know only the present, where everything must be given to them. They believe the ballot is a passport to easy access to jobs, free education and housing.

The elders understand that life is much more complicated than that and voting is just part of a much more complex process. They are much more loyal to the liberation movements, and suspicious to the new youth led parties.

“The youth that say we must not vote [but] don’t know where we come from. That is why it is easy for them to say we should not vote,” said Elizabeth Mukobi of Vyeboom who grew up in the same part of Soweto as ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa. Her brother was killed by apartheid agents in Botswana in 1981.

While the elders are driven by a desire to right the wrongs of the past and to soothe painful memories of loved ones who died during the torturous march to freedom, the young see the trip to the ballot as something political parties and candidates must earn by enticing them with practical proposals and solutions.

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