If the report issued last week by a Parliamentary committee regarding
causes of social protest is any indication, our political elites are not
willing to take steps required to address society’s deep divisions.
A year ago, the so‑called Ad Hoc Committee on Coordinated Oversight on
Service Delivery was given a mandate “to specifically investigate the
underlying reasons for the often violent protests for services.” What
they have produced is utterly inadequate.
The MPs failed to notice most of the major protests even in high‑profile
sites like Durban where they came to gather testimony; they failed to
apply their minds about information they gathered; and they accepted a
biased explanation about the causes – mainly malgovernance ‑ without
digging up an even deeper root of the problem: money.
Dating to the time service delivery protests began in earnest, when
Thabo Mbeki became president in 1999, the most seductive response for
politicians is policy‑denialism. They avoid blaming the national
executive (where policies are made) and the legislature (where they
should be vetted and oversight provided).
Instead, it’s easier to claim that provincial and municipal government
officials simply refuse to properly implement the otherwise laudable
policies, programmes and projects. That’s what the Committee concluded
in explaining South Africa’s world‑leading protest rate: “The interface
of politics and administration, the quality and frequency of public
participation, [and] responsiveness to citizens override all other factors.”
As a result, the ‘neoliberal’ (pro‑market) orientation of the state is
disguised and the conservative fiscal policy imposed by Trevor Manuel
and maintained by Pravin Gordhan goes unquestioned. That policy stresses
‘cost recovery’ and refuses to transfer adequate funding for
infrastructure and services required by poor people.
The Committee is not entirely wrong, because naturally, malgovernance
accompanies neoliberalism. More precisely, crony capitalism –
‘Zuma‑family Economic Empowerment’ (ZEE) at national scale, and locally,
the patronage system of City Manager Mike Sutcliffe ‑ replaced the
social democracy promised by the African National Congress in the 1994
Reconstruction and Development Programme.
As the Committee put it, in a remark that hits home in Durban, The
tender system in municipalities needs to be tightened to close gaps that
allow corruption to flourish.
However, the Committee’s parachute tour allowed only an outlandishly
positive top‑down view of Durban management, which is allegedly
“performing well in service delivery including housing, long‑planning,
building partnerships with the private sector to provide services and
build catalysts for development” [sic].
The masses beg to disagree, judging by the past decade’s worth of major
Chatsworth is the site most often named as the epicenter of
post‑apartheid mass democratic community unrest. Recall that Fatima
Meer’s Concerned Citizens Forum arrived there to promote the ANC in the
2000 municipal elections. Soon realising that ANC officials worsened not
lessened the socio‑economic problems of both Indian and African ‘poors’,
Meer switched sides to civil society and a new, critical way of relating
to government was born.
Since then, Durban service delivery protests have regularly broken out
against various state departments for a range of reasons. The seventy we
documented over the past year and a half in the Centre for Civil
Society’s ‘Social Protest Observatory’ (on our , website) represent only a fraction of the anger, but
State‑failure and anti‑government protest in Durban, 2009‑10
* Housing and services: Hammarsdale, innercity, Kennedy Road,
KwaMashu, Lamontville, Lindelani, Marianhill, Marrianridge,
Mayville, Ntuzuma, Siyanda, Umlazi community, Umlazi
* Land: Qadi people displaced from Inanda Dam
* Food: SA Unemployed People's Movement
* Students: Durban University of Technology, Mangosuthu University
of Technology, UKZN
* Environment: Chatsworth’s toxic BulBul dump, South Durban
Community Environmental Alliance against climate change,
petro‑chemical regulation and World Bank loan to Eskom
* Transport: city‑wide bus commuters, Clairwood residents v trucks
* Police violence: Umlazi
* Informal trading: Warwick Junction Early Morning Market, Verulam
* Healthcare: Phoenix victims of Gandhi Memorial Hospital
* Anti‑FIFA: Durban Social Forum
* Home Affairs: Movement for Democratic Change, anti‑xenophobia network
* Labour: Mabhida Stadium building contractors, Durban bus drivers,
SA Municipal Workers Union, Communications Workers Union against
Post Office, Telkom workers, social workers in provincial
government, Satawu v Transnet, Stallion Security v FIFA
Noticing just one of these protests, in Wentworth over the Barracks
housing, the Committee recorded how that “community was furious about
the condition of the new housing development because there was clear
poor workmanship which the Metro and residents should have resolved
amicably by forcing the contractor to fix the defects. It was clear that
the municipal leadership was not aware of the frustration and concerns
of residents.” Come off it, of course Sutcliffe and his colleagues were
aware (surely they read The Mercury, where it was covered).
Most of the problems raised in these protests could easily be fixed with
a dollop of money untainted by corruption. To prove this, when Durban’s
water department raised prices so high on consumers during the late
1990s and early 2000s (doubling the real water price within six years),
the lowest‑income third of Durban residents cut back their consumption
by 30 percent.
Then, recognising that such neoliberal water policy caused debilitating
protests and lawsuits in Johannesburg, Durban officials remedied their
mistake in 2008 with a 50 percent increase in the amount of free water,
a 9 kl/household monthly ‘lifeline’. That’s the right government
response to service delivery protest: recognize genuine grievances and
spend a bit more if that’s what’s required.
The visiting MPs never once recognize this obvious strategy, even when
observing that Durban “opposition parties complain that senior
administrators are pursuing their own agendas and deprive them of
information.” But instead of honing in on the problem associated with so
many services (unaffordability) and the solution (more subsidies), the
Committee only remarked upon the “need to strengthen communication
between councillors and communities.”
Ducking hard issues is why Parliament has a joke reputation and why no
change in service delivery can be reasonably anticipated – until more
intense protests certainly follow.
REPORT OF THE AD HOC COMMITTEE ON COORDINATED OVERSIGHT ON SERVICE DELIVERY
Durban Protests 2009
Durban Protests 2010