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South Africa’s neglected use elections to seize attention

By Crystal Orderson, in Cape Town
Posted on Wednesday, 17 April 2019 09:14

A man walks with a car tyre as he barricades the street during a service delivery protest in Alexandra township in the north of Johannesburg, South Africa, April 3, 2019. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Anger from citizens who feel left behind by South Africa's development -- known as 'service protests' is resurfacing ahead of elections; anger that politicians are navigating around, and even capitalising on.

From Khayalitsha in the Western Cape, to Kroonstad in the Free State to Alexandra in Gauteng, residents have in recent weeks shut down the areas, burnt tyres, blockaded the streets with rocks and rubble.

  • Residents say they have had enough of being ignored and taken for granted by politicians who have neglected their demands.
  • Gauteng was the most protest-prone province (so far) in 2019, according to research by Municipal IQ: “In the past 3 months, there’s been an uptick in protest levels, after a lull in the last few months of 2018.”

This week Johannesburg Mayor, Herman Mashaba had to abandon a public meeting with Alexandra residents.

  • Known as Alex to locals, the township is one the oldest ones in Johannesburg and is a mere 10 km away from Africa’s richest square mile and business hub Sandton.
  • The two could not be more different: most residents in Alex live without basic services like water or electricity and lack housing, while buildings worth millions spring up in Sandton.

“We have been seeing increasing agitation by communities, the desperation and hopelessness that their needs have not been met”, the head of the Centre for the Study of Violence, Nomfundo Mogapi told SABC News. “They use violence as a language to be heard”

Meanwhile, political parties have been blaming each other in this battle for the hearts and minds of voters ahead of the May 8th poll. And they have been criss-crossing Alexandria.

  • The DA leader Mashaba, for example, said his cancelled meeting was ‘hijacked for political purpose’.
  • The previous week President Cyril Ramaphosa visited the area and told thousands of residents that ‘their message has reverberated throughout the whole country that you as Alex are sick and tired of poor service delivery. He said the “filth” and the dirt in Alexandra had “disturbed” him, and blamed it on the DA which runs Johannesburg, and setting up a presidential task force to deal with the housing crisis.

“As was widely anticipated, protests have surged to a new record for the first quarter”, says Kevin Allan of Municipal IQ. “It is likely that protesters are making the most of the opportunity to draw politicians’ attention to their grievances in the run-up to elections”.

Here are the hotspots ahead of the May 8 polls:

  • Alexandra Township in Johannesburg – ANC and DA battleground
  • Mamelodi in Tshwane – ANC and DA battleground
  • Khayelitsha in Cape Town- ANC and DA battleground
  • Kroonstad in Makhodo Municipality, Free State
  • Pennyville, Soweto – ANC and DA battleground
  • Khunwana near Mahikeng in North West Province ( ANC vs ANC )
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