On the eve of one of the most highly contested elections in South Africa, a wave of sporadic protests, some violent and reminiscent of the apartheid era when the country was rendered ungovernable, have broken out across the country.
Protests broke out in Alexandra, north of Joburg, and were followed by others in areas such as Hammanskraal, Pretoria, Roodepoort, Soweto, Bekkersdal, Vereeniging, Kroonstad and in Blackheath in the Western Cape. Two people died in Rus-Ter-Vaal, Vereeniging, when land invaders clashed with the Red Ants and property owners over land.
Protesters threw stones, blocked streets and used barricades on main roads while burning tyres and other material for days on end and vowed not to stop until their grievances, including housing, jobs, land, running water and electricity, are addressed.
In Alexandra residents called for DA mayor Herman Mashaba to address them in person, but he refused, saying he wasn’t scheduled to go there. Instead ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa and Gauteng premier David Makhura addressed the protesters in a move that prompted the DA to accuse the ANC of instigating the protests in Alexandra. The ANC has denied this.
On Saturday the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) served subpoenas on Johannesburg City manager Ndivhonaiwani Lukhwareni, Gauteng head of corporate governance Thandeka Mbasa and Director General in the Office of the Premier Phindile Balenito to appear before the commission on Thursday to answer allegations of socio-economic infringements in the township, News24 has reported.
The SAHRC said the plight of residents in Alexandra should be addressed by the government and politicians should not use their concerns as an election campaign tool.
Political analyst Ralph Mathekga said both the ANC and the DA were to blame for the situation in Alexandra, adding that both were responding “very poorly” to the protests in the area.
“Protests are started out of local concerns, instigated by real issues. Protests were meant to disrupt. People have realised that violent protests work. That is why they block the roads. There is no such thing as a peaceful protest. The DA goes to Alex and says, ‘Where is he (mayor Herman Mashaba)?’”
Mathekga also pointed out that protests come with the election season, as was evident in 2016 during the local government elections and now on the eve of national elections on May 8.
“There is a high number of protests just before elections. Communities know that political parties are listening.”
Mathekga said “no doubt” the ANC was gaining political mileage from the protests in Alexandra township, which forms part of the City of Johannesburg which the ANC governed from 1996 until the EFF coalition with the DA took over after winning a majority in 2016.
“The trigger point is service delivery based on bread and butter issues, the dire straits” in which many communities find themselves”, said Mathekga, adding that protests are never peaceful, but almost always violent in their nature.
“Citizens know how to bargain with political parties. You press their buttons just before the elections.”
“The collapse of local leadership in our communities is one of the major causes of the violent nature of protests. Most of the protests are now ‘leaderless’ and are led by agents provocateurs, because people within communities ‘don’t know where to go’.”
Political analyst Professor Mcebisi Mdletyana said that communities were frustrated about unfulfilled promises and protests are caused by the “genuine eruption of frustration of things that have not been addressed”, because on the eve of an election politicians are “begging” for their attention and support.
Dr Somadoda Fikeni said: “When two elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers, or not, it may seem?”
“The people are also aware that politicians are more likely to be amenable to their demands when elections are around the corner. They themselves are not innocent. They can spontaneously plan to say, ‘If we want to be listened to, just target the election period.’ It’s a convergent of proxies and parties doing their own things.
“Well, the country has come to get used to service delivery protests and it is quite clear that the voters have now identified the best opportunity to mobilise when it is close to elections, but this time around we are also seeing another dimension. Parties are mobilising against their opponents to expose their inadequacies. So you do have the proxies where you find that the ANC may lean towards Sanco and DA may lean towards some of the NGOs that are friendlier to it to start these kinds of protests or court actions as a way of trying to put under pressure or expose their opponents.”
Black First Land First leader Andile Mgxitama said the root cause of the protests was “the failure to end the apartheid allocation of resources and the abandonment of the public service by the political class.”
Mgxitama said politicians take advantage and manipulate voters for electioneering purposes, like in Alexandra, and the DA and ANC couldn’t claim innocence, or the EFF, which has given the DA power in Joburg metro.
Acting ANC acting spokesperson Dakota Legoete dismissed the blame levelled against his party by the DA, which had accused the ANC of being behind service delivery protests where the DA governs.
“As the ANC we dismiss the DA’s unsubstantiated accusations with the contempt they deserve. Instead of listening to issues raised by communities and accounting, the DA chooses to look for scapegoats and scarecrows. The DA is running scared. Their lies about good governance and delivery have been exposed. They have run out of ideas. The only thing they are left with is to look for something or somebody to pass the buck to.”