Forgotten and angry: the fury behind the protests
As the country’s top leadership is racked by division and infighting, communities at the bottom of the ladder are feeling the pinch
A sign announces you are 33km from Johannesburg. On the extreme southern outskirts of the metro that is SA’s economic hub lies Ennerdale.
The average annual income, according to Wazimap, using census data and the results of the most recent elections, is about R30,000 per household.
What is left of burnt tyres at intersections welcomes you to Ennerdale. Last Friday, while police vehicles patrolled the area, residents walked in scattered groups along quiet streets; most shops were closed.
It was in Ennerdale that the smoke of burning tyres echoed the anger of residents in Eldorado Park, in Finetown, in Freedom Park, in Laudium and in Port Elizabeth.
SA’s protest nation has been out in full force over the past few weeks.
Besides the base-level service delivery protests, residents also voiced their anger in Coligny and Vuwani.
Coligny was almost reduced to ashes as angry residents protested at the death of 16-year-old Matlhomola Jonas Mosweu. Pieter Doorewaard and Phillip Schutte are accused of his murder.
In Vuwani the community renewed their protests against being incorporated into a new municipality. The decision on the demarcation that removed Vuwani from the Makhado municipality and placed it under the newly formed Collins Chabane local municipality (LIM345) resulted in more than 24 schools being burnt in 2016.
But those were protests of a different kind.
There have been 59 major service delivery protests this year
The anger of South Africans who feel forgotten by a democratic government in their most basic needs is a very real issue.
Charmaine Booysens (43) lives in Ennerdale and supported the protest over housing this past week.
She lives with her children in a shack in what is known as Zozo Park.
There is no electricity, and they share a lopsided portable toilet and one communal tap with at least 15 families. They bathe in a small plastic tub, and use buckets in the evenings when they feel it is too unsafe to walk to the portable toilet, which is surrounded by shrubbery and weeds.
Booysens and her neighbours want to show you the facilities they must use, the fires in metal bins that they cook on, and the plastic tub they bathe in. They point out the safety risks that go hand in hand with the overgrown bushes.
"Look at this place. Is it a place where any of us can stay? We are staying here because maybe we’re desperate. But even in our desperation, we need help from a councillor," says Booysens, surrounded by her neighbours.
A neighbour who does not want to identify himself interjects, saying they feel they are not heard by government and are used only for their votes.
"Once they get into power, they forget about us."
Booysens and the other residents of Zozo Park seem to be the "forgotten people" of Johannesburg to whom mayor Herman Mashaba so often refers.
The state will not suppress the views of the communities when they say that service delivery is not undertaken to the fullFikile Mbalula
It will take you almost 40 minutes to reach Ennerdale when you leave Mashaba’s City of Johannesburg offices in Braamfontein.
Still, Booysens and her neighbours dismiss any claims that the protest in Ennerdale is politically influenced — they are merely angry residents who were made empty promises.
Though the issues of the communities are seen as legitimate by politicians who are taken to task in these protests, police minister Fikile Mbalula and Gauteng MEC for community safety Sizakele Nkosi-Malobane said last week that the protests had been taken over by a criminal element.
"The state will not suppress the views of the communities when they say that service delivery is not undertaken to the full," Mbalula said on Wednesday while addressing members of the police service and the Johannesburg metro police in Eldorado Park. The police would protect the community so that they could voice their concerns, he promised.
But, he added, democracy did not allow criminality.
"There is a hand of a criminal in every protest ... a criminal that burns, a criminal that loots," Mbalula said.
A high-profile meeting on Thursday was attended by, among others, human settlements minister Lindiwe Sisulu, co-operative governance & traditional affairs minister David Des van Rooyen, Gauteng co-operative governance & traditional affairs MEC Paul Mashatile, Mashaba and Tshwane mayor Solly Msimanga. They acknowledged that the issues of the communities were genuine.
According to the joint statement sent out, the politicians decided that the protests deserve a response that will find lasting solutions to the communities’ problems.
Karen Heese, economist at Municipal IQ, which tracks major service delivery protests, says they have recorded 92 protests since August.
The ANC lost control of the Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay metros in the municipal elections in August. Heese says there have been 59 major service delivery protests so far this year. Eleven of these took place in May.
Heese says there was a lull in protests around election time, but this has "clearly changed".
She says that while there do not seem to be too many protests, according to how Municipal IQ measures major ones, the concern is the "intensity, volatility and propensity for violence and criminality, as well as contagion to surrounding areas".
The protests in Ennerdale were followed by protests in nearby Finetown.
"There is a component that is similar to previous years — protests on the outskirts of metros or in areas where service delivery is simply not meeting demand," says Heese.
"But we, like most citizens, are concerned about the escalation in conflict that is apparent and perhaps speaks to a number of national tensions — factionalism, coalitions (and) arguably a lack of leadership."
Professor Karl von Holdt, director of the Society, Work & Development Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand, thinks that there "is a kind of correlation between the sense of division and paralysis at the top, and the increase in protests at the bottom".
He says ordinary people see that elites and politicians are wasting money while people are starving.
Gauteng DA leader John Moodey says there is a political element to the protests, referring to MEC Nkosi-Malobane telling residents that it’s the DA mayor and his government that made promises in the area, and that the DA must deal with it. But, says Von Holdt, political influences in these protests are relatively small.
"That can happen, but the main driver of the protest actually is grassroots anger. There is enormous frustration. [There is] increasing frustration across SA in so many different ways," says Von Holdt.
He believes one of the essential points in these protests is that it is about people who are experiencing an unresponsive democracy.
"Democracy holds out the promise that you will be heard. You are a citizen, you have a voice, you have rights."
With that comes the promise that attention will be paid to your problems, and that it will be fixed if you bring it to the attention of the authorities.
"And most of the time in SA it does not happen," says Von Holdt.
Booysens certainly doesn’t hide the fact that she and others in Zozo Park feel that they have been sold empty promises.
"I don’t think government is listening at all. There are people that have been here for years. And they keep on promising and promising. Even for us they promise. But nothing happens."
On why nothing happens, she answers: "We’re not sure."
As she walks out of the yard, a few neighbourhood children in tow, she makes it clear that the protest will flare up again if promises are not kept.
"We were just dropped off here and forgotten," she says.