Running for FF Plus, Godfrey Skosana is challenging identity politics in SA
Godfrey Skosana, a young black man, is openly campaigning for the Freedom Front Plus in Sephaku in Limpopo and is challenging South Africa’s identity politics with his brand of campaigning.
JOHANNESBURG - On 1 November 2021, millions of South Africans will be voting in the local government elections.
They will be choosing officials who will be serving them at community level. A lot is at stake and many voters hope their lives will finally change for the better.
As expected, politicians are crisscrossing the country, kissing babies and striking up friendly conversations with members of the public. It promises to be a pulsating electoral showdown.
But a 29-year-old candidate in Sephaku in Limpopo caught Eyewitness News's attention. He is challenging South Africa’s identity politics with his brand of campaigning.
Some quickly peep through their windows, before returning to their house chores. Others are helplessly overcome by curiosity. They halt whatever they are doing to see if this is really happening. Like an unblinking hawk firmly following its prey, residents here are watching a white bakkie slowly driving through their street.
But who wouldn’t be curious? This has never been seen in this small rural village of Sephaku in Limpopo. A man is holding a loudspeaker with one hand while keeping a steady balance on the back of the moving bakkie. He’s shouting at the top of his voice, urging his neighbours to come out in their numbers to vote for him on 1 November.
But that’s not what surprises people here. They are intrigued by the emblem on his T-shirt. For the longest time, it symbolised the aspirations of South Africa’s right-wing Afrikaner minorities. Yet, here’s Godfrey Skosana, a young black man openly campaigning for the Freedom Front Plus. “To hell with your lies”, one resident shouts. But Skosana isn’t bothered - he is driven by deep conviction.
“We want to fix things. We want to lead as the youth. We want to focus on things that concern us, like opportunities and the fight against substance abuse, things like agriculture, access to the internet where people will access knowledge. Those are the things we want out of these elections," he tells me before displaying his friendly smile.
But who can blame him for being desperate for change? Living conditions in this place are depressing. One communal tap serves the entire community. And to push a wheelbarrow filled with buckets of water is in itself a mission. The roads are almost nonexistent. Driving into this area from Johannesburg took a great deal of effort, carefully negotiating the dusty roads while at the same time avoiding large rocks.
If he doesn’t get up and do something for his community, Skosana tells me, nothing will change.
“In 2016, I voted for the ruling ANC. I later voted for the same party nationally. I didn’t see any change at all,” the 29-year-old said. So, in March of this year, he carefully studied various political parties before deciding to fill out some forms and officially join the Freedom Front Plus. He is now the party’s candidate for ward 23, in the Elias Motsoaledi Local Municipality.
During our interview, Skosana is interrupted from time to time by people asking for this and that. They are putting final touches to a political rally he will be addressing shortly. Local residents are gradually filling the community venue we are conducting our interview from. A lean-looking Skosana gets up, checks a few things, including the sound system and seating arrangements before the first speaker takes to the podium. The MC asks the main guest to come forward. Dressed in denim jeans, a blue winter jacket and a white T-shirt with a big orange and green Freedom Front Plus logo, Skosana gets up. He confidently walks to the front of the hall, to address his potential voters.
But he couldn’t get into the nitty-gritty of his election manifesto without tackling the elephant in the room. He admits that the party he’s throwing his weight behind has consistently and unapologetically promoted the interests of the Afrikaners, since it was established on 1 March 1994. Its founding leader, Constand Viljoen, envisioned what he termed the Volkstaat, an exclusively Afrikaner homeland, and Skosana is aware of this history.
“I think it is known as a party of the Boers. There’s nothing wrong with being known for what you are. But if you defend your authenticity and stand firm on what you represent, there’s nothing wrong. So, if you can do something like that, it means you will do the same for us."
Essentially, Skosana believes, the same loyalty the Freedom Front Plus is showing to its traditional voters can be extended to his black community. “They are loyal to their voters, regardless of the situation. Even in situations where they might potentially offend other people, they stick to their principle for the sake of their voters," he says.
But of course, we live in South Africa, a country that continues to be haunted by its history of racial segregation. So, while Skosana’s family and friends are supportive of his political choice, the same can’t be said about others in Sephaku.
“People from other political parties say I am being used by the Afrikaners. They say white people don’t love us. I am not looking to be loved by white people. I want services," he tells me with great passion.
He isn’t the only one who feels this way. Pheladi Mtshweni, a young woman in attendance said: “We decided to try something like VF [Vryheids Front] Plus because it’s been years. We’ve been voting for the same party, but we don’t get anything”.
Another voter, Josta Bhuda, is equally frustrated by the promises of the past.
“Some of us had lost belief in matters of voting. We decided to go with the FF Plus because we can see that there are many things that can get sorted. Even the person leading us is playing a big role”.
Bhuda is of course talking about Skosana.
But what does this mean? Are we witnessing the rise of right-wing nationalism in black communities? Or is Skosana just a lone political outlier? In 1994, the Freedom Front Plus received 2.2% of the national vote, attracting mostly farming and rural communities. But the numbers showed a steady decline in the following years and rose again to nearly 3% in the 2019 elections. Many believed that dissatisfied voters whose home had been the Democratic Alliance for a long time had decided to take a chance with the Freedom Front Plus.
WATCH: Godfrey Skosana: The Freedom Front Plus's black local government candidate
Political analyst Melanie Verwoerd, however, cautioned the party not to be complacent saying that it would have to think differently moving forward.
“The Freedom Front Plus saw a lot of growth. But the point is, they know that growth will stagnate at some point because there are only so many Afrikaans votes that they can attract in the white community. So, they’ve known for a while that if they really want to expand their support base, they will have to include people from other races in South Africa.”
But is this growth, particularly in black and coloured areas, sustainable?
“I don’t think that’s gonna happen on a major scale. I think it’s a very interesting thing that’s happening in oppositional politics. But I don’t think, in a long shot, that this is going to do away with identity politics that we’ve seen in South Africa where particularly race, still determines, to a large extent, the political outcome and who people vote for,” Verwoerd said.
Whatever happens on 1 November, Skosana is brave. Swimming against the tide and standing alone, especially on issues as sensitive as politics and race, takes a great deal of character, which he will need should he be elected to lead his ward.