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Karumbidza, J. B.  (2005) Delivery, not witch-hunting, stupid!. Centre for Civil Society : -.

The directive by the ANC-led government that the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) investigate the possibility of a third force being involved in recent protests, while the ANC itself acknowledges that the issues raised by protesters are genuine, is very mischievous and a waste of resources. This seems to be a tactic to split the forces protesting for change and also to divert attention from the issues leading to protests. This strategy gives security threats and possible destabilization the center space while issues of delivery are forced into the back seat. At a time when local government elections are looming, such a strategy can be calculated as a decoy to distract from the lack of delivery, and meant to invoke in the toiling masses a sense of patriotism and nationalism. If the leaders of these protests are regarded as radical reactionaries, then some followers may back down in the interest of protecting ‘democratic stability’ - as defined by the presidency. This has become a regular boring chorus. Not too far back, an unsubstantiated plot to unseat Mbeki by highly placed party insiders was used to divert public attention from the negative publicity of the arms deals. This strategy is an exhausted one that will not always guarantee intended results – people need delivery and they need it now!

As Africans and citizens of other developing countries we should desist from being polite in the face of problems and regard them as challenges. Each time people call for speedy delivery they get reminded that transformation is not an event, but a process. Leaders who continue with business as usual should recognise it is only natural that after years of patience in the face of ever-worsening circumstances, fatigue sets in, leading to frustration and exasperation. It is unrealistic to expect people to remain patient, especially when they see those in power ride on the gravy train, enjoying the creature comforts of life amidst abject poverty of the masses. The notion that people must not protest against a government they elected but must instead exercise patience is a pipe dream. To assume that people will remain silent unless there is a third force involved is to belittle the masses and mock their intelligence. Such thinking is not in keeping with the history of this country and the struggle against apartheid. It is these masses that kept the fire of the struggle burning after the banning of political parties and the incarceration of political leaders and the scattering of the rest into the Diaspora.

The unrests are a clear indication of a protracted and ongoing struggle for the total liberation of our people. It is also important to underscore the fact that local government in South Africa faces numerous challenges ranging from capacity difficulties, poor governance, and having to redress the firmly entrenched apartheid legacy. The current protests in South Africa reflect a deep problem with the current system of local government. From 1994, South Africa embarked on a lengthy process of introducing "democratic local government" in all parts of South Africa. This process was faulty because public participation was severely restricted and the process became a technocratic intervention by the state at local level. In rural areas, this process was favoured because government feared that support for traditional authorities would lead to lesser powers for these municipalities. In townships, the government wanted to alienate local-based civic organisations that were increasingly demanding an increased voice on local issues. These rural and township differences and positions were in favor of an autonomous and independent local level governance that would owe its authority, legitimacy, and powers to local people. In the end, South Africa ended up with a highly-centralized, ineffective, bankrupt and out-of-touch-with-reality municipal system, with elected officials who owe their loyalty to their party bosses and central government rather than the people. The reality of the situation is that people do not participate in municipal structures because to do so would give legitimacy to an unwanted system. People do not see these municipalities as vehicles of local empowerment but vehicles for the empowerment of certain party officials. These riots are therefore as much against lack of delivery as against an unrepresentative system. The ANC government must start delivering if people are to participate in these structures and not against them. Why should people be expected to be silent if they are subjected to the same, if not worse, hardships they protested against under apartheid? If no one has to be subjected to the path of abject poverty, as Mbeki suggested in one of his speeches, then let the delivery begin, and the criminalization of poverty be rolled back. South Africa cannot afford the ways of the other uncle next door (north of the Limpopo), who has been busy cracking down on the poor by destroying their efforts to survive in an economy he wrecked. This is a leaf the South African leadership should be wary of borrowing.

Lessons from Zimbabwe are enough to show that sojourners follow the path of repression to their own peril. Freedom of speech and expression should never be taken away from people. In the neighbouring country, people raise their voices at the risk of their own lives and those of their loved ones. When our leaders stop looking for labels but solutions for our problems, then people would not go to the streets. Addressing Parliament recently, President Mbeki argued that these demonstrations may not be an immediate threat but if left to persist may be a threat to the future sustainability of democracy in this country (more like they would expose the ANC for its lack of sensitivity to the poor). This is a very strange line of thinking that supposes that expression of anger and discontent by the masses of our people is a threat to democracy. The awkward logic underpinning this thought process being that democracy stands firmer where the people are silent, where they see no evil and speak no evil. This is a paranoid act of insecurity which is in keeping with a presidency that thrives on the ‘denialism’ of everything that is important. Recently the very same president was quoted as saying there is no serious unemployment problem in South Africa, castigating COSATU and the SACP for raising alarms around the issue. When Earthlife Africa raised concerns about the possibility of high radiation at the nuclear reactor at Pelindaba, the president called them alarmists and their suggestions “impermissible” and promised legislative curbs against such “whistle blowing”. The gag on information and freedom of speech is constantly under threat, with the recent media blackout of the ‘Oil-gate scandal’ joining the list of examples. In a press statement, alliance partners COSATU and SACP expressed dismay with “government's over-reaction to protest actions by members of some of our poorest communities over the past three weeks”, suggesting that “instead of listening and talking to the people, who are demanding basic services and legitimate rights, and addressing their concerns, the government seems to want to criminalise them”.

Let’s say there is indeed a third force working in South Africa; who are the likely sources? If we read the threat to democratic stability to mean ‘threat to the political control by the ANC’, there are therefore two sources of this ‘third force’. Firstly, the extreme left tendency (unfortunately imprisoned by dogma and orthodoxy, whose capacity to provide positive and practical solutions to the problems our people find themselves in remains suspect) represented by COSATU and the SACP. Secondly, the arrogant extreme rightwing tendency that is both ignorant and irresponsible (characterized by people who conveniently choose to pretend that South Africa does not have an unjust past and that we can just move on). The indication from the government allegations seem to point to the minor alliance partners COSATU and SACP as the third force. In a recent book on Mbeki, Gumede argued that the marriage of convenience among these alliance partners has overstayed its usefulness, suggesting that as Mbeki consolidates his win in the battle of the soul of the ANC, the SACP owes it to its faithful followers to win the battle of the soul of the government. Are the erstwhile alliance partners COSATU and SACP the third force? Does Mbeki interpret the alliance partners’ support of the protest action by the poorest of the poor (and its announcement of an impending strike on June 27) as part of a strategic withdrawal from the alliance and building strong coalitions with the progressive left-inclined groups and community-based organizations? Delivery issues must be engaged with as part of the public dialogue, and it is government’s duty to address them rather than castigate and criminalize those that dare speak out. Evil thrives when people do not speak out, and in a world where capacity and budget always come in the way of delivery, some bit of street action might help.

J. B. Karumbidza, Economic History and Development Studies Programme, UKZN.

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