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SOUTH AFRICA: Protests cause cracks in ANC-led alliance (GLW)

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    http://www.greenleft.org.au/back/2006/658/658p18.htm SOUTH AFRICA: Protests cause cracks in ANC-led alliance Leo Zeilig, Johannesburg The March 1 municipal
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 28, 2006
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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.
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