SOUTH AFRICA: Protests cause cracks in ANC-led alliance (GLW)
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SOUTH AFRICA: Protests cause cracks in ANC-led alliance
Leo Zeilig, Johannesburg
The March 1 municipal elections in South Africa have again triggered
questioning of the future of the Tripartite Alliance, the coalition led
by the governing African National Congress (ANC) that includes the South
African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade
Unions (COSATU), the country’s largest union federation.
The alliance has helped maintain an uneasy calm in South Africa since
1994. Throughout this period the ANC government has stuck with
determination to a program of neoliberal policies that has won praise
from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
However, these policies' impact on the poor has led to bitterness among
millions of South Africans.
Matjhabeng in the Free State province is a good example. The sewage
system has collapsed; old leaky water pipes result in frequent water
shortages, with an estimated 40% of water lost. Thousands in the area
have no private access to water, and hundreds of people are forced to
share single taps. More than 15,000 use what is euphemistically called
the ``bucket system'' — a household bucket used as a toilet, with
slopping out in communal dumps every morning. Across South Africa almost
900,000 people are forced to use the bucket system.
The growing frustration has been expressed in significant township
rebellions and protests during the last two years. Tens of thousands of
people across the country have refused to accept these conditions 12
years after the end of apartheid.
For example, since the middle of last year, there have been more than 50
large protests in towns and cities across South Africa. Every major city
and provincial authority has been affected. Most have been triggered by
the ANC’s failure to deliver basic services, and resistance to the
introduction of user-pays for water and electricity services.
As Cape Town protester Mzwandile Qolintaba told Reuters: ``I feel a lot
of pain. We don’t have electricity, we don’t have toilets ... our
children are sick because we don’t have any water. I am angry.''
What has been the reaction of the ANC? The police have used rubber
bullets, stun grenades, tear gas and live rounds to disperse
demonstrators. Over the last two years thousands have been arrested. The
national Sunday Times wrote last year that the protests are reminiscent
of the 1980s, when apartheid confronted its greatest challenge from the
mass protest movements. The response of the state also evokes memories
of the '80s.
Many local branches of the SACP have sided with their communities in
these protests. SACP members have even led many of these protests. This
is the case in a number of important protests over decisions by the
government to redraw the boundaries of communities that straddle
provincial borders. Frequently, this means moving already poor
communities into more impoverished provinces. The decisions are often
made by the ANC government without any consultation with the communities
In Khutsong, the SACP has led protests against the redrawing of
municipal boundaries to relocate Khutsong from the relatively prosperous
Gauteng province to Merafong municipality in the North West province.
The local SACP is refusing to canvass for the ANC. A similar struggle is
taking place in Moutse, which is being transferred from Mpumalanga
province to the poorer Limpopo province. All 11 SACP candidates in
Moutse have now decided to stand as independents.
Hundreds of independent candidates — many current and former members of
the ANC, and SACP members — are standing in the elections. The weekly
Mail and Guardian reported at the end of January that the ANC was
seeking to ``whip electoral dissidents back into line''. The ANC has
kicked out more than 30 members — frequently SACP members — who have
decided to stand against the ANC as independents in both the Western and
Northern Cape provinces.
In the Western Cape, more than 160 ANC dissidents are standing as
independents. Only one ANC independent bothered to turn up for a
disciplinary hearing. There are also widespread reports from several
provinces that the ANC leadership has excluded SACP and COSATU members
from its candidate lists, especially those activists who have led
community struggles against ANC-controlled municipalities.
The dissatisfaction with the ANC of many rank-and-file SACP members
contrasts starkly with the enthusiasm of the leadership of the SACP. In
a statement released in early February, SACP general secretary Blade
Nzimande declared that ``the SACP has decided to throw its full weight
behind an overwhelming ANC victory in all municipalities''. Nzimande
urged: ``Don’t waste your vote on small protest parties. Opposition is a
The anger at the ANC's unrelenting neoliberalism is also filtering up
from the members and shop stewards of COSATU, influencing some in the
federation’s pro-alliance leadership. According to a report in the
February 17 Johannesburg Star, a COSATU executive meeting that week saw
several affiliated unions argue that it was time for the SACP to contest
elections independently of the ANC.
COSATU general secretary (and SACP member) Zwelinzima Vavi dismissed
these arguments, claiming that they represented only ``pockets of
problems'' in a few unions. Vavi insisted that COSATU and SACP members
standing as independent candidates withdraw and fall behind the ANC and
the ``democratic movement''. Vavi conceded that ``there are problems ...
some of the people who are standing as independents do have grievances
against the ANC or the government. But real and true revolutionaries do
not move away from problems.''
From these developments some important political formations have
emerged. The most significant of these are the community groups that
have evolved into, often ad hoc, political groups. The January 13 Mail
and Guardian reported that “At least eight social movements in
Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni will field a total of 55 ward candidates and
three social movement groups — Operation Khanyisa Movement, Thembisa
Concerned Residents and Katorus Concerned Residents — have registered
... as political parties to participate” in the March 1 poll.
The Operation Khanyisa (light) Movement (OKM), for example, is
contesting seven wards, across three townships, in Johannesburg. The OKM
emerged from the militant Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee (SECC),
which has been at the forefront of the protests against the
commodification of basic services. SECC's Nonhlanhla Vilakazi estimates
that it has reconnected approximately 20,000 residents whose power has
been cut off for non-payment since 2000.
The group has also led resistance to pre-paid water meters that the ANC
city council’s corporatised Johannesburg Water has been desperate to
introduce across the city. At the launch of the OKM in January,
supporters celebrated their resistance to the meters by marching through
Soweto waving meters freshly torn from residents’ gardens.
In Durban, under the slogan ``No land, no house, no vote'', the militant
shack-dweller's movement Abahlali base Mjondolo is leading a boycott of
the municipal election.
Feeling the pressure of the protests, South African President Thabo
Mbeki in January announced a huge spending boost for local government,
spread over the next five years. The end of the bucket system by the end
of 2007, clean water and sanitation for every South African by 2010 and
electricity for all by 2012.
The new political formations, progressive independent candidates and
community groups are unlikely to pick up large votes in the municipal
elections. Nor is the Tripartite Alliance, which has many times in the
past bailed out the ANC government, in its death throes. The more likely
result will be that a large number of people will simply not vote at all
(the turnout at the last municipal elections was 48%).
[Leo Zeilig is a socialist and activist based in South Africa.]
From Green Left Weekly, March 1, 2006.