Picture: ALON SKUY
Picture: ALON SKUY

The residents of Alexandra, the impoverished township adjacent to the country’s richest square mile, are the forgotten poor people whom politicians love to talk about in the run-up to an election.

It has been a week since protests flared in the area over service delivery issues and crime, but the community has been dealing with 25 years of poor services in democratic SA.

Community members on Monday marched to Sandton, which has become the true business district of Johannesburg, home to the rich and powerful.

Alexandra offers a stark contrast — its constantly simmering xenophobia periodically erupts into violence, and almost every year flash floods sweep away some of the residents who build their homes on the banks of the Jukskei River.

The township was established in 1912, the same year as the ANC. But none of the politicians who have controlled the Johannesburg metro since 1994 has shown its residents any respect.

The ANC was in charge of the city, including Alexandra, from the first democratic municipal elections 23 years ago until the local government elections in 2016. It might seem odd that the ANC should now be championing the cause of the frustrated residents whom it all but ignored for 20 years, but of course it is a political party, and that’s what parties do.

The party’s ward councillors are among the leaders of the protests, trying to place the blame for the township’s woes on the city’s ruling DA/EFF coalition.

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It is now less than a month until the May 8 elections, and politicians of every stripe have been quick to step in and show that they care about Alexandra. The exception is the DA’s Herman Mashaba, who has been the mayor of Johannesburg for almost three years now. Instead of trying to address the township’s issues, he is also playing the blame game.

Of course, all this must be seen in the context of the general elections. One of the prizes at stake is control of Gauteng province, where the opposition DA believes it has a chance of cutting support for the ANC to below 50%.

Mashaba and his DA colleagues, including its candidate for Gauteng premier, Solly Msimanga, have been quick to claim the ANC is behind the Alexandra protests, with Msimanga even laying criminal charges over alleged incitement.

Mashaba on Tuesday went a step further and accused the ANC of using the machinery of state to try collapse his administration, an allegation that should be thoroughly interrogated.

Mashaba will meet Alexandra residents for the first time only on Monday next week, having previously delegated MMC Michael Sun to address their concerns. Township residents are now demanding that President Cyril Ramaphosa himself must intervene, and there are reports he will visit soon.

Both leaders will of course continue the blame game. But the DA’s failure to at least go and listen to aggrieved residents, who the party itself has acknowledged have valid concerns, is frankly distasteful. It hardly befits a party that wants to govern Gauteng after May 8.

Whose side of the story the province’s voters accept will soon become clear.

In the end the residents of Alexandra, just like every voter in SA, must accept responsibility for the leadership they elect, and for that leadership’s subsequent performance. It is, after all, the obligation of voters to choose the best candidates available at election time, and to kick out those who prove incompetent or uncaring.