In DepthColumnsWelcome to Gauteng: Part 2

Sun,19Nov2017

Posted on Monday, 08 April 2013 17:01

Welcome to Gauteng: Part 2

Shauna Mottiar

A neighbourhood committee that sees to it that all its members are connected to the electricity grid is planning to disconnect the local mayor's electricity. A social movement activist argues that there are no 'members' only 'supporters' as poor people cannot afford to pay membership fees to be part of the organisation. A group of protestors seem confused about what they are protesting against: Zimbabweans or the police. Welcome to Gauteng. In this three part series, Shauna Mottiar's focuses on Social Movements in Gauteng, South Africa.

 

Welcome to Gauteng: Part 2

Click here to read Part 1: The organization was situated in Bramfontein a few blocks away from the university, Constitution Hill and linked to Johannesburg City Centre by the Nelson Mandela Bridge.

As a student my friends and I had often crossed the main road from campus into Bramfontein to a small bakery.

The bakery owner was proudly Portuguese despite never having been to Portugal.

And what happened to the powerful civics movements that opposed apartheid?

He regaled us with stories about his Portuguese relatives as he shoveled freshly baked red cakes into large brown bags. The stories were terrible but the red cakes were delicious – delicate little victoria sponges rolled in jam and sprinkled with desiccated coconut.

Their divine aroma could be discerned from across the street. I had decided that after my visit I would seek out that little bakery and re-live old times. I said good bye to Dave and made my way there.

About half a block away I expected to start smelling pastries but didn't.

As I caught sight of the bakery I realized that it was now more of a general store which did however sell confectionary. Slightly disappointed, I stepped in and saw that red cakes were still on display. Only now they were larger, individually packaged in plastic bags and stale looking.

"Can I help you lady?" Asked a man standing behind the counter.

"Are the red cakes baked on the premises?" I asked.

"No lady. They're fresh from the factory." Now bitterly disappointed, I glared at him accusingly and said,

"You're not even Portuguese are you?"

My next meeting was with a well-known professor who is an authority on the subject of civil society. It was more of a lecture than an interview and I decided to sit quietly and take notes.

Occasionally I thought I was going to be given an opportunity to speak but quickly realized all questions were rhetorical.

"Why do we suddenly have this proliferation of social movements in South Africa post-apartheid?" He boomed.

I opened my mouth to air my views but that was as far as I got.

"Because NGOs are too busy partnering with government and CBOs can barely survive with their limited resources. Social movements are the only avenue the poor and marginalized have to engage and contest the state to deliver socially just policy!" I nodded sagely and wrote copiously.

"And what happened to the powerful civics movements that opposed apartheid?" Again I attempted to say something but wasn't quick enough.

"It became a watered down version of itself and its members were all co-opted into government structures!" An hour and ten pages of notes later I was dismissed.

I had arranged to meet an old varsity friend of mine while I was on campus but had about an hour to spare.

I decided to make a stop at the card issuing office to sort out my access card. There were two people in the office.

The first was a young woman leaning against the counter, chewing audibly at a piece of gum and miserably contemplating the wall.

The second was a young man staring at his computer screen and occasionally jabbing a key with one finger, his tongue sticking out in extreme concentration.

I looked around hopefully for a third person and realized that it was either the young woman or the young man. I chose the latter.

"Hello." I said politely. He stared at me blankly. "I would like a new access card please."

"Is it expired?" He asked.

"No, but there's an error on it." I explained, holding out the card and indicating where the word 'alumnus' had been spelled 'alumnut'.

Again I received a vacuous stare. "It should read 'alumnus'". I added helpfully.

"It's not expired."

"Yes, but I would like the spelling error corrected please."

"It's not expired. You can't have a new one." Suddenly I realized the bureaucratic logic and said "I'm happy to pay for a new one."

"Fill in this blue form and this pink form. Take the pink form to the cashiers office and pay. Then come back here with a yellow receipt."

Having duly followed the process I handed over my old card. The young man called up my details on his screen and began typing. As he typed he mouthed "aa – lum – n - ss".

"Thanks." I said happily as he handed me my new card. I looked at it as I walked out of the office, 'alumnus' was now spelled 'alumnis'.

Read Part 1

Read Part 3



Shauna Mottiar

Shauna Mottiar

Shauna Mottiar is Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Civil Society,UniversityofKwaZulu- Natal. She has a PhD in Political Studies from the University of theWitwatersrandand her research interests include civil society, social movements and social protest. She currently manages the Centre for Civil Society Philanthropy and Social Entrepreneurship project focusing on the role of philanthropy in social justice and social change.

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