Brothers at home but rivals at the polls: 4 siblings contest Matatiele ward
JOHANNESBURG - He’s up a ladder, holding a hammer and awkwardly attempting to maintain a steady balance.
He’s pinning a poster bearing his image, to a pole. Dressed in a red t-shirt and matching beret, this is Loyiso Ntabeni, an Economic Freedom Fighter (EFF) councillor candidate for ward 10 in Matatiele.
Not far from Loyiso, another political hopeful is campaigning vigorously. He slowly drives his white bakkie, stops from time to time, gets off and hands out pamphlets to members of the public.
His name is Vuyani Ntabeni, an independent candidate in the same ward. Two other politicians have been spotted in the same area in recent days, campaigning for public office.
One of them is Siphamandla Ntabeni, who represents the African National Congress (ANC). The other is Luyolo Ntabeni of the African Independent Congress (AIC).
Having exactly the same surname isn’t a coincidence. This is a remarkable story of four brothers who are contesting the same ward in the Eastern Cape’s Matatiele Municipality.
WATCH: Four brothers from different parties, one election position: who'll win?
Loyiso (50) is the eldest, followed by Luyolo (48) and Vuyani (47) and Siphamandla (37) is the youngest. They value their brotherhood but differ sharply ideologically. Three of them recently took part in an election debate televised on a local news channel. They went for each other’s jugular.
No political argument passed unchallenged. Vuyani, in particular, was throwing blistering shots at Siphamandla, challenging him about some of the ANC’s shortcomings. But the 37-year-old did not sit back and helplessly take the punches. He brought heavy artilleries of his own.
Now, imagine how political discussions at the dinner table in the Ntabeni household must be like. But throughout the debate, they repeatedly called each other “bhuti”, which means “brother”. It demonstrated that despite their fierce political rivalry, nothing was personal.
“We grew up respecting each other. If you give respect to the young one, your young one will give you respect as well. That’s how we were taught,” said Vuyani.
His brother Siphamandla sees it as a sign of political maturity: “We are a family that respects democracy, and we understand democracy. Therefore, we are united in diversity. We appreciate one another. So, our role is to unite people in every corner we go as leaders.”
But their family get-togethers aren’t always dominated by election talk: “We discuss family matters, how to run our families because what is happening is that, the elders are dying and we are the ones who are going to be left behind. We now need to discuss how do we take the family forward,” said Vuyani.
But what exactly do the Ntabenis intend to offer the people of Ward 10? The EFF’s Loyiso said: “We want to bring jobs to our young people. They are always in the shebeens. Others are doing crime.”
Luyolo aims to save his community from the blunders of the ANC: “These people were disadvantaged since 27 April 1994. It’s more than 26 years.”
Siphamandla agrees that his party has made plenty of unforgivable errors since the fall of apartheid but believes plenty can still be achieved: “As you can see, there’s a lot of space… land. That land can be used economically, in terms of agricultural programmes. I have already started. I was in serious engagement with SAPPI in terms of ploughing trees in that particular village to create those sustainable job opportunities.”
Meanwhile, Vuyani wants to focus on the basics: “We have problems with the roads in our area, also water and sanitation. You find that, yes, the previous administration has really invested in water and sanitation in the ward, but they fail in maintenance.”
It’s going to be a bruising election, one that will either make or break political careers. Come 1 November, only one man will be left standing.