Sure, this 115-year-old man does vote – for the man above
Fredie Blom has lived through World War 1, and he doesn’t believe in either your doctor or your star leader
“At my age, if I cut myself, there is only water – no blood,” says Fredie Blom.
When World War 1 broke out, Blom, now living in Delft in the Western Cape, was already 10. Last Wednesday, as South Africans voted, he turned 115.
He was eligible to vote, and would even have managed the physical act of shuffling into the booth, but he saw no point and never has.
In the courtyard outside his room at the family home, he sat quietly on his birthday sharpening his tools, then raised his milky eyes and said: “I see no chance. Why must I vote? For what? I only vote for one man, and that is the big man above, that is God.”
Blom was born in Adelaide, Eastern Cape, in 1904, and became a farm labourer at a young age.
Living and working under harsh conditions for several decades, he turned to his faith to see him through and eventually settled in the urban sprawl of the Western Cape, where he continued to work as a handyman and gardener well into his 80s.
He sharpens his axe, fiddles with pliers, and, according to his family, “took two months to saw his way through those logs of wood over there, but working with his hands is what keeps him going”.
His two dogs are old and covered in mange and sores. One can barely walk. But a family member whispers: “He won’t let us put them to sleep. We want to call the SPCA, but Fredie says: ‘No, these are my dogs’.”
While he sits in the courtyard, the dogs curl up under the workbench.
From time to time, he goes inside to watch television, but the reception is so bad one can barely make out the human figures.
It is 30 years since Blom and his wife Janetta, 86, settled in Delft, and the cramped family house is a microcosm of how little has changed for many South Africans in the 25 years of democracy.
It is home to several members of the extended family across generations. Employment is all but nonexistent for those in their prime, and rampant crime is never far away.
In 1989, the apartheid government established Delft as the first township where those classified as black and coloured would not be segregated, and the Bloms were among its first residents.
“We have lived in Delft for 30 years. It is the same here all these years. There is nothing that I can say has changed,” said Janetta, who came from the Northern Cape and eked out an existence as a domestic worker.
One thing that has indisputably changed is the crime rate. According to police statistics, homicide in Delft has more than doubled since 2009, with 195 murders in 2018. This made it the fifth-highest area for murder across the country, and the third highest in the Western Cape.
It also ranked in the top 10 for drug-related crimes (about 3,700), attempted murder (192) and sexual offences (almost 250), while there are fewer than 170 police officers per 100,000 residents.
Sitting on a makeshift bench in her nightgown, Janetta said that until the 2014 elections she did vote. “But not this year. There’s no change. Every day and every year is the same. Promises, promises. You can give everything to the Lord and take his promises rather. After four or five years it is the same promises but nothing comes.”
Had she supported Blom in his determination not to vote over the past 25 years? “He has got his own decisions. Everybody’s got his own decisions,” she said.
She felt the same way about his refusal to set foot in a day clinic or see a doctor. “He doesn’t believe in doctors. He would rather pray. He won’t even go to the day hospital,” she said.
“He says the doctor will just use a piece of rag, like a lappie, and put it somewhere on your body and then send you home.”
Just like his socioeconomic fate, Blom said he would rather leave his health “in God’s hands”. Janetta, by contrast, is diabetic, and relies heavily on the healthcare system.
“I do go to the day hospital,” she says. “I must!”
The two married on December 22 1973, when Fredie was already 69 and Janetta was a spritely 40.
Then, a young toddler named Jasmine came into their lives. Today, Jasmine is 37, unemployed and worries for the young people of Delft.
Janetta said: “Two weeks before her mother died, she came and said: ‘Please raise my child, but promise me one thing: you won’t change her surname.’” So she is Toerien and not Blom.
“Jasmine was just over a year old and her mother had a disease that got worse after the pregnancy. She said: ‘Even if you don’t want the child any more, please don’t give her to my family no matter what. They will not look after her’.”
When Toerien turned 21, Janetta introduced her to a sister she didn’t know, but that was the last contact she had with anyone from her biological family.
Janetta said it didn’t matter. “I have raised her like our own flesh and blood,” she said. “We love her as our daughter.”
On Wednesday morning, Toerien said she was planning to vote later in the day because she felt it necessary for youngsters and children to at least have some hope.
“I have lived in Delft my whole life. They do nothing for us and everything stays the same, so when I go and vote I will only be thinking, ‘can they do something better for young kids? Can they stop the crime?’ I am unemployed, but I pray to live to the same age as Fredie.”