Inside the smoky confines of the V5 tavern in
Bochabela, Vincent Mohlifi is dreaming.
"I dream for a day when we have true opposition to
the ANC (African National Congress). It may not happen today or tomorrow, but I
believe it will happen," he says, cigarette clutched firmly between two cracked
fingers, swigging from a quart of his favorite beer.
Bochabela is on the outskirts of the city of
Bloemfontein in South Africa's Free State province. Mohlifi is drinking with
his people, the people he's lived with for the past 30 years. The fellow
patrons of the V5 tavern shake their heads at him.
For Mohlifi is one of the few people in Bochabela
willing to openly declare their support for the Congress of the People (COPE),
established just 120 days ago to rival the ruling ANC in what many observers
say is the most important election in South Africa since the 1994 vote, which
saw the end of white minority rule.
"I just feel it's time for change. I just feel it's
time we South Africans moved away from the politics of the past and stopped
looking at race and other factors. That is why I am for COPE, because I believe
it's the future, not the past," he says. "The struggle against apartheid is
over! But the way the ANC is campaigning, a person would think it is 1985!"
Yet everywhere Mohlifi goeshe wears a T-shirt
affirming support for the ANC.
"This shirt!" Mohlifi exclaims, "It is part of the
past. But I still wear it to protect myself, to show the ANC people that I
still respect their party. I used to be an ANC member myself. But too much is
wrong here. Too many people have been left without the most basic of services,"
he says to himself, pulling at the fiber of his shirt.
"I just wish people here in Bochabela would not see
me as anti-ANC. I am not anti-ANC; I am pro-South African!" he says.
Leaving the tavern, Mohlifi wanders down a rocky
street, pointing at crumbling homes, gazing at mangy dogs with their heads
firmly buried in uncollected refuse, their snouts emerging dripping with
assorted foodstuff that has become slime.
"Hope! Vote for hope!" Mohlifi screams to no one in
A few old ladies emerge from a broken-down brick
home to witness the commotion.
Hope is the opposition's buzzword as the poll
approaches, but Mohlifi, like many analysts studying the upcoming polls,
acknowledges that there "is not much chance" of an opposition victory.
"It is no shame for us to lose," he smiles, dwarfed
by a larger-than-life poster of ANC candidate Jacob Zuma. "What is important is
that we are showing the world that South Africa is not a one-party
state. We are one of the most democratic countries on earth. The ANC is
dominant, yes, but it has not yet silenced the voices of people like me. We are
still a beacon of hope in Africa. Our fight
gives hope to all people. We refuse to be complacent in our so-called
democracy. We are guardians of the truth."
Suddenly, in the midst of his comments, he is
surrounded by a gaggle of schoolchildren. The fact that they're too young to
vote does not curb their appetite for the diet of politics – and more politics
– that South Africans have been fed the past few months.
"ANC! ANC! ANC!" the youngsters shriek, spotting
Mohlifi's buttercup yellow T-shirt emblazoned with the words "Vote ANC."
Mohlifi keeps quiet – unable or unwilling to
extinguish their adulation – and smiles as the schoolchildren continue to
"Are you going to be in the newspaper tomorrow?" one
eager admirer asks Mohlifi.
The man pauses. He seems to struggle for words for
the first time on this eve of one of the most important days in South Africa's
Then he answers. "Not tomorrow," he whispers to the schoolgirl. "But
maybe sometime soon."