Friday, 03 April 2009 17:32

Hope springs eternal? Not in this town Featured

Written by Lynnette Johns - IOL
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Cape Town - With its art galleries, restaurants, wine estates and pretty antique stores, Robertson is a tourist hub. But beneath its charming exterior is simmering discontent and real misery.

Coloured people, who make up more than 70 percent of the town, say they are second-class citizens and bear the brunt of discrimination from both white and black.

Most of the workforce find employment on farms and many permanent workers live on the farms, while seasonal workers are scattered throughout the district.

Come election day farmers will transport their workers to the polls as they have done previously.

You can tell which part of town you're in by the party posters: the Freedom Front Plus posters have claimed poles in the white areas, while Jacob Zuma smiles from on high in the black area.
Robertson forms part of the Winelands District Municipality, which has one of the highest incidences of foetal alcohol syndrome in the world.

A new study by FasFacts, an NGO which concentrates on the syndrome, has shown that even though the dop system no longer officially exists, the results of alcohol abuse continue to destroy poor communities. Most of the people affected by FAS are coloured.

The old lament of "we weren't white enough, now we not black enough" is said time and time again. Coloured people say they want dignity, they want to be valued, and they do not want to be treated as second-class citizens. Most of the coloureds work on farms, but some are shop assistants and some have started their own businesses.

Apartheid spatial planning is still evident here. White people live in wide tree-lined streets in the dorp, coloureds live on farms or in one of the many suburbs set aside for them, while black people live in Nqubela on the edge of the village, past the industrial area.

Many people say they have seen little or no change since 1994, and will no longer vote for the ANC, the party which introduced reverse racism, they claim.

Instead they will make their crosses next to the ID or Cope or the DA. Being the majority in the town, where 54 000 people are registered, the coloureds helped to install the ANC in the municipality, but many say they now feel betrayed.

The municipality may be ruled by the ANC, but the economy is run by white farmers and business people. Black and coloured business people mostly ply their trade in their own areas. Elclauvia Lakay, who works at a dry cleaners, says: "In this town everyone knows their place."

"Racism, huh, the end of apartheid? Not much has changed here. Apartheid is even still practised in the doctors' surgeries."

Coloureds are feeling stifled and oppressed, and they say the election results will not change that. Putting food on the table is their first priority, and watching their children struggle to find work breaks their hearts. Grandmother Ellen Jansen says: "I just want to be treated like a human being. White people are still the bosses, black people run the municipality, so where does that leave us?

"Even our so-called leaders have not done anything for us, nothing has changed here race-wise."

She urges the Weekend Argus team to "go up the road to the doctor's surgery to see what I mean".

Jansen says she will vote for the ID in the hopes that the party will raise the issues of coloured people. "You feel like a dog, but what can we do? That's Robertson."

Pat Goliath says he was unfairly dismissed from a construction company because he had "too much mouth".

"My skin was too dark to get a decent job, now it's too light, how must I paint myself? There is no hope in this new South Africa."

Martin Geduld will abandon the ANC this time in favour of the ID. "Coloured people get too few rights, our children are pushed to the background and black people are being promoted. I will vote brown."

Geduld, who lives in Panaroma outside town, has come to the doctor. Those with medical aid go through one door, cash-payers - all of them black and coloured - through another. They are also treated in separate examination rooms. Medical aid patients are treated first.

The cash patients sit waiting in a small room with wooden benches. Geduld, a spaza shop owner, says he would rather be treated like a second-class citizen here than try his chances at the government hospital, where he would sit for hours and possibly not even see a doctor.

"Yes, it's humiliating, but I don't have a choice when I need a doctor," says Geduld. In Nqubela social housing is replacing what was once an informal settlement, bringing a sense of dignity to the thousands of black people who were born here. People here can see the changes. Unathi Teyisi says houses have been built and she is one of 12 people trained at state expense to be a baker. With funds from the district municipality and the provincial department of social development, a bakery has been set up where they will make "fresh, hot bread" for their community.

Most of the white people in the town keep to themselves, many of them disillusioned with the country. But some of the business people have been supporting Cope, putting up money for office space for the fledgling party. Drienie Mulder owns Bon Appetit, a busy cafe? in a side street. Her husband Johan was an accountant at the municipality, but he resigned in disgust as untrained and unqualified people were placed in jobs.

"He ended up having to do their jobs, so he left for the private sector. They lost a good person," she says. Drienie worked for the Land Bank for years, and her reasons for leaving were similar to her husband's. "Yes, we can see the changes, and we know exactly who we are going to vote for."

At a florist's shop an elderly woman initially refuses to speak to Weekend Argus, but then changes her mind. A spinster, who worked for many years for a tyre concern, says that when she retired she realised her money was not going to last. She is polite but bitter. She inherited her home from her parents, now the municipality insists on exorbitant rates, she says. "I am a poor pensioner." She says the country is in a mess, and as for political parties, "each one is more deurmekaar than the other". She adds: "I have to vote or else I won't be able to say anything."

Things are not much more hopeful on the farms.

Farm worker Jan Klaasen was recently given the job of driving the grapes from the Roezandt farm to the winery. He says there has not been much political activity on the farms. Many things have changed, he says, but is at a loss as to say how. Klaasen has voted since 1994 and says if the farmer takes them to the polls, he will vote on April 22. While Klaasen has managed to go up in the world, pensioner Andries Jansen is battling. The old man lives on the Zevenberge farm in Wonderfontein. He retired three years ago after working on the farm for seven years, and the farmer allowed him and his family to stay on.

He uses an old pair of crutches to get around and has been known to walk for kilometres to the day hospital for his pain medication.

Sometimes he has waited in vain to be treated, only to be turned away from the clinic.

Jansen, who voted for the National Party in 1994, says if he votes he will vote for Cope. Leaning heavily on his crutches he says: "I will never vote for the ANC, they have abused this country and nothing has changed. Maybe I will find a home with Cope."

His daughter Sandra Jansen and his granddaughter Sue-Ellen Le Roux, both police reservists, are excited about the elections, but will not be voting. Neither is registered as a voter.


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