Service delivery remains at the core of local governance, and often when such services are not provided to the community, residents sometimes resort to protesting as a means to express their anger and frustrations.
South Africa has had its fair share of service delivery protests in the past, especially, in the run-up to Local Government Elections, leading to numerous areas being hotspots over fears and threats of election boycotts and violence.
Elections were set to take place in October, however, a report commissioned by former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke in July recommended that the elections be postponed to no later than February 2022. Moseneke argued that free and fair elections cannot be held during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Early September, the Apex court dismissed IEC’s proposal for the postponement, ordering that elections be held between 27 October and 1st November.
As government and political parties gear up for the polls, SABC News looks back at previous service delivery protests that have plagued municipalities and districts, starting with the Gauteng province.
In April 2019, residents of Alexandra township, north of Johannesburg, took to the streets in what was dubbed as the #AlexShutdown to highlight their frustrations with the City of Johannesburg, led then by the Democratic Alliance (DA).
They said the billions of rand allocated to the Alexandra Urban Renewal Project announced in 2019 – which was meant to improve the physical, social and economic environment of the area – landed nowhere.
Residents also threatened to continue with their protest until then-mayor Herman Mashaba attended to their concerns, as outlined in the video below:
Solly Msimanga, who was the then Gauteng premier candidate for the DA, called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to account to Alexandra residents on the poor state of the township. Former mayor Mashaba pointed fingers at the ANC, saying it had failed to deliver basic services in the area since 1994.
The ANC in turn said the DA in the province should not hide behind it for its failure to respond to the plight of residents of Alexandra township.
Chaos erupted in Bekkersal in the West Rand in April 2019 as residents in the area took to the streets, demanding the electrification of informal settlements in the area.
All roads leading in and out of the area were blockaded with rocks and burning tyres.
As protests intensified, police used rubber bullets and teargas to disperse hundreds of protestors, who in turn retaliated by pelting police vehicles with rocks and stones, as see in the video tweet below:
— Manqoba Mchunu (@ManqobaMchunu) April 10, 2019
Elements of criminal activity eventually started trickling in when the shops of foreign owners were looted and vandalised:
— Manqoba Mchunu (@ManqobaMchunu) April 10, 2019
In the video below, community leader Thabang Wesi said residents continuously raised their concerns to municipal leaders, however, their pleas fell on deaf ears, leading to residents taking to the streets in protest:
Also in April 2019, residents in the City of Tshwane embarked on a series of protests against the then DA-led Tshwane administration, accusing it of failing to deliver basic services such as clean water and housing.
“RDPs are unfinished. Even those RDPs that have been there for 10 years – you go into Temba – they are trenches. There are problems and when you ask the municipality, they say they have no budget,” said one Tshwane resident.
Protestors then mobilised a mass social media campaign under the banner #TshwaneShutdown, where thousands would march to the Union Buildings to hand over a memorandum of grievances to President Cyril Ramaphosa.
The march however failed to yield mass support and had a poor turnout, and protestors present refused to hand over their memorandum to an official from the Presidency, insisting that they wanted President Ramaphosa to receive it.
The then Tshwane mayor under the leadership of the DA Stevens Mokgalapa described the protests as a political stunt orchestrated by the ANC government.
The Economic Freedom Fighters also joined the DA in dismissing the protests as a political ploy by the ANC:
Ward 33 cleaning, After the ANC opportunistic campaign protest.
— EFF Tshwane Region (@TshwaneEff) April 11, 2019
Deployment of police at polling stations
South Africa’s general election was held in early May 2019. However, with the Gauteng province being plagued by a series of service delivery protests shortly before the polls took place, police ensured tight security around polling stations in an effort to avoid election violence or disturbances.
In a media briefing ahead of the voting, Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) Chief Electoral Officer Sy Mamabolo cautioned against disrupting elections, saying it is a criminal offence:
Plight of communities
Meanwhile, Political Analyst Dr. Sethulego Matebesi said it is unfortunate that the plight of many communities around the country is only taken seriously during election season.
Following the Alexandra protests, there was an outcry across social media platforms as President Ramaphosa addressed residents wearing ANC regalia.
Matebesi said political parties such as the governing ANC blur the lines between state obligation and party campaigning.
“People are using elections as a bargaining forum to try and at least get the ears and eyes of a non–responsive state. You’ve got heightened election campaigning. All these political leaders are making statements which I strongly believe at the end of the day sometimes they do not mean it.”
“What message is that sending? The question is would the President have gone to Alexandra if it was not election time?”
-Additional reporting by SABC News