The stench of burning tyres and teargas fills the air and police vehicles can be seen all over the place. The sound of rubber bullets being fired echoes in my ears. For a moment, it feels like I am in a scene straight out of Sarafina, but then reality thankfully takes over. I remember then that I am fortunate enough to be in a democratic South Africa- a South Africa in which the value of “human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms” is explicitly stated in the constitution, the highest law of our nation. I am also aware that it is impossible to uphold this value, without meaningful engagement between citizens and government. Having this in mind, I then wonder why:
On the 30th May 2012, at least 6 villages in Moroleng protested and were later joined by 7 more villages;
7th June 2012 at about 18:00 the roads of Kanana Village were barricaded and four cars were stoned;
9th June 2012 in Manokwane village, roads were barricading the roads with stones and tree branches, in a service delivery protest that was caused by a lack of access to water;
6th June 2012, the residents of ‘Top Village’ in Mahikeng barricaded the road between Mahikeng and Zeerust;
7th June 2012 at about 10:00, the Lomanyaneng community gathered in the streets and embarked on an approved march to hand over their memorandum. It is alleged that the mayor did not show up and that angered the protestors, causing what started as a peaceful march to erupt into violence. The Setlopo/Utlwanang road was then barricaded and
Ganyesa was also hard hit by service delivery protests, which saw a school set alight; foreign nationals being looted and also resulted in the death of a pregnant woman.
As downplayed as it is, the North West Province has in recent times undergone serious unrest. The service delivery protests have not only become more frequent, but also more violent. Reasons for the protests include:
- A lack of meaningful engagement with citizens;
- Slow delivery of houses;
- Poor maintenance of sanitation infrastructure;
- Inadequate access to water and in some areas poor water quality;
- Poor refuse removal services;
- Allegations of corruption;
- Allegations of nepotism and maladministration.
From my experience, coupled with observation, I am aware that protests are usually not the first option for communities. They are often the result of the ever growing frustration of not having one’s voice heard. It is very difficult to understand why our communities feel this way. Section 152 (1)(e) of the constitution requires local government to “encourage the involvement of communities and community organisations in the matters of local government”. What this means is that public participation is a right that is protected by the highest law of our land, so it is clear that communities that our communities should never have to feel that they are being ignored.
The knowledge that “public participation is crucial in the building of an effective democracy”, filled me with the faith that the grievances of these communities would be heard. Sadly, this did not happen. Instead of listening to what communities are saying, the service delivery protests were politicised with accusations of ‘political interference’ flying around. The people were once again ignored and instead threats about “finding those behind the protests” filled the media.
The continued lack of engagement created nothing but more anger and events on the 1st and 2nd July 2012 evidence this. Top Village, Makhubung, Matshepe and Majemantsho are but a few examples of how Mafikeng is sitting on a ticking time bomb. People’s anger, coupled with the increasing police brutality used to handle protesters is steadily leading to an explosion like we have never seen before and should not have to see in a democratic South Africa. Futile attempts to shift the blame to politics are only serving to fuel the speed at which we reach the explosion of this time bomb. People can only be ignored for so long, then they will revolt the only way they know how.
Our people are suffering and ignoring this not only makes a mockery of a democracy many sacrificed so much for, but also a democracy that public servants are compelled to uphold.
Aluta Continua, the struggle does indeed continue…