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Posted on Thursday, 25 April 2013 15:31

Welcome to Gauteng: Part 3

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 3

Read Part 1

Read Part 2

I checked my watch, it had taken me just under an hour to replace a misspelled access card with a new misspelled access card. I sighed and headed to the main cafeteria to meet my friend who was now an academic in the Department of Political Studies.

We spent a pleasant hour reminiscing about our campus days: drama at the overnight library; afternoons spent lying on the lawns and cute professors.

"Speaking of cute professors," said my friend, "three o'clock."

Feeling like a first year student I grinned and directed my gaze to the right. I saw a tall, fair haired man balancing a laptop on his knee while attempting to disconnect a vending machine.

"What on earth is he doing?" I asked.

"Plugging his computer into the Coke machine socket. There aren't any plug points here."

"Who is he?"

"Professor Peter Bold."

"The Professor Bold?" I spluttered. I had read all of his books and papers quoting widely from them in my dissertation. His work had revolutionized my understanding of social justice. I looked in his direction again. He was straightening up and seemed to be looking at me. Suddenly he opened his very blue eyes wide and smiled a most dazzling smile. I smiled back.

"He's not smiling at you, moron!" Said my friend pointing to a person standing behind me.

The next day I had an opportunity to talk to a group of people who had taken part in a recent community protest. Most of them resided in a township and were either unemployed or informally employed. I wanted to learn whether this protest could be dismissed as 'deviant behavior' or whether communities used protest as a means to participate as active citizens. I asked what the protest was about.

"We have no services, no running water, no electricity." Stated a young man.

"The municipality won't take us seriously unless we make a noise." Added an older man.

"We have to block roads, we have to burn tyres."

"Why don't you take up your concerns with your ward councilor or your ward committee?" I asked.

"These are mechanisms designed to allow community participation in local governance." My question was met with a series of snorts and grunts.

"Our councilor doesn't care about us. We are not important only his bosses are important." Said a young woman.

"Ever since he became a councilor he is prospering while we become poorer. We are hungry but he is eating meat every day."

"He's prospering from being a politician?" I asked. There was a peal of laughter.

"Politicians get tenders!" Explained the young man.

"They don't share the tenders!" Complained the older man.

"Do you ever use violence when you protest?" I asked tentatively.

"No." Replied the young woman's husband.

"The police use violence."

"The police are corrupt!" Added the older man.

There was a general chorus of agreement and the young man said, "You see the police van driving okay. It's full of illegal Zimbabweans. They work in Sandton as gardeners. But then as the police van nears the police station it's not quite so full and when it arrives at the police station it's empty!"

Once again there was unanimous agreement while I looked on in confusion. Taking pity on me, the young woman explained that the police target Zimbabweans who are living and working in Johannesburg without resident visas. They 'pick them up' but en route to the police station negotiate bribes, releasing them (extorted of their meager incomes) along the way.

I considered social protest as I drove home. It seemed to me that protest was part and parcel of citizen life in South Africa.

During apartheid, the civics movement was born out of street committees composed of communities campaigning against the daily frustrations of township living. They used resistance campaigns and mass mobilizations to demand a better life.

Social movements and protesters in post-apartheid South Africa seemed to be doing the same thing.

In the famous words of Jean Baptiste Karr: plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose - the more things change the more they stay the same.

As I turned into 6th Street I noticed that one of the old Plane trees had sprung a new shoot, signaling the coming of spring.



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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