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Coloured community voting patterns expose historic challenges

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The Patriotic Alliance (PA) led by Gayton McKenzie holds its final rally at the Sunbet Arena in Pretoria before the May 2024 general elections. Many ‘coloured’ lower-income voters have been drawn to the PA because of its populist solutions like reinstating the death penalty, getting rid of illegal immigrants and job creation programmes exclusively for them, the writer says. Picture: Timothy Bernard / Independent Newspaper

By Christo van der Rheede

The past elections in the Western Cape expose deep historic divisions and unresolved challenges, especially in the “coloured” community.

Coloured voters voted primarily for the DA, Patriotic Alliance (PA) and National Coloured Congress (NCC); previously the Cape Coloured Congress) in recent elections. A smaller number of people voted for the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), GOOD, Africa Restoration Alliance and the People’s Movement for Change.

The ANC, which received a fair number of coloured votes in previous elections, has now received notably fewer votes. But GOOD and the ACDP were the biggest losers in the Western Cape and ceded many votes to the PA and NCC.

There are certain reasons that have prompted coloured voters in the Western Cape to vote in large numbers for the DA, PA and NCC. To understand this, one needs to analyse certain electoral wards in predominantly coloured communities and present them as case studies.

In the Charleston Hill residential area in Paarl, the DA received 449 (55.71 percent) votes compared to 533 (74.34 percent) in 2016. The PA received 199 (24.69 percent) and NCC 12 (1.49 percent) votes.

This is a predominantly coloured upper-income or middle-class area (teachers and other professionals), hence the predominant support for the DA.

In the Gouda area, a rural area that is predominantly coloured working class (factory workers, farmworkers and unemployed people), the picture looks different. The DA fell from 574 (44.09 percent) in 2019 to 207 (17.88 percent) votes in 2024. The PA, with its 382 (32.99 percent) votes, dealt a blow to the DA.

Against this backdrop, it is abundantly clear that coloured voters do not vote on a narrow ethnic basis, but rather to a greater extent according to income and issues affecting them within a specific area.

In particular, it’s the coloured lower-income or working-class and unemployed people in rural areas who have given their support to the PA. These are people who have not necessarily lost confidence in the DA, but were instead motivated by certain socio-economic circumstances to vote for the PA.

They are competing for jobs with migrant workers from other provinces and our neighbouring countries, in particular. They feel overlooked by employers who prefer immigrants who are allegedly employed illegally in some instances. Social ills, especially gangsterism, violence and drug and alcohol abuse, are impacting many coloured working-class neighbourhoods negatively.

We often learn about innocent children and adults wounded or killed by stray bullets. Dropping out of school deprives them of further studies, not to mention the many other socio-social challenges they face daily.

It’s no surprise, then, that they feel drawn to Gayton McKenzie’s populist solutions like reinstating the death penalty, getting rid of illegal immigrants and job creation programmes exclusively for them.

By contrast, the coloured middle class and elite voted for the DA on a large scale. That support for the PA also came from their ranks is certain, but to a much lesser extent.

The lived realities between higher-income and lower-income coloured communities are dramatically different. The middle class lives in affluent neighbourhoods, their children attend good schools, have access to local and international colleges and universities and qualify as teachers, doctors, engineers and many other professions.

Their voice is a vote for maintaining their lifestyles, privileges and opportunities provided by the DA government in the Western Cape. By contrast, a vote for the PA and NCC is clearly a protest vote hoping to bring an end to the marginalisation experienced by them. It is a voice of desperation, a cry for help, recognition and equal access to opportunities.

However, it would be a mistake to ascribe their vote for the PA and NCC to marginalisation only. There are also other factors present that are driven by their association with political leaders who come from their own ranks.

From the social media posts by PA supporters, it is also clear that there is a burning desire to assert themselves in a unique and independent way and to claim back their human dignity.

This is reflected in their active involvement and the passionate manner in which they take ownership of the activities of the PA.

The latter is a positive development that should be encouraged, especially in the field of education. Too few coloured Afrikaans speakers go to universities or colleges.

The number of coloured students at tertiary institutions in 2022 amounted to 5.3 percent. Of this group, the number of coloured Afrikaans-speaking men amounted to 5,109 students out of 1,077,768 undergraduate and postgraduate students. A mere 0.5 percent!

This is the massive crisis that lies at the heart of the many socio-economic challenges in the coloured working-class community. It calls for a large-scale collaboration to address the phenomenon of boys dropping out of school before they complete primary or high school. And making funding available to get the coloured working class and, especially, coloured youth back in school and help them access higher education institutions.

The vicious cycle of poverty, unemployment, drug abuse, gangs and violence against women and children can be broken only if more young coloured Afrikaans-speaking youth go to universities and colleges.

This is what the DA, PA and NCC should focus on. With the help of coloured elite and business people, such a collaborative effort would go a long way to free them from the trap of poverty and underdevelopment.

* Christo van der Rheede is adjunct-professor at the University of Free State.

** The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of The African