What do the ANC NGC docuemtns say about service delivery?

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Whatever the NEC’s reports yield, it is clear that local government sphere is much wider than just isolating reasons why people take to the streets to air their frustrations.Whatever the NEC’s reports yield, it is clear that local government sphere is much wider than just isolating reasons why people take to the streets to air their frustrations.When the African National Congress (ANC) convenes its fourth National General Council (NGC) in October, the upcoming 2016 Local Government Elections (LGE) will be widely discussed. Speaking to the worrying issue of service delivery protests in its discussion documents, the party says this “flammable social tinder” is a “concern” that is undermining the “legitimacy” of the State. For it, the rising protests are fast becoming the norm as a “form of democratic expression post-1994”.

The growing numbers

According to SABC Research statistics, service delivery protests with a ‘local’ or ‘municipal’ element have risen steadily from 11 in 2004 to 1306 by September 2015. Of course, the SABC is not the only organisation tracking the numbers. Municipal IQ, for example, noted that 155 protests took place in 2013, 191 in 2014, and 59 by Mid-September 2015. The only issue with Municipal IQ’s data is that they admittedly only track ‘major protests’, or protests that involved 100 people or more. This begs the question: what about those ‘other’ minor protests that involve less than one hundred people? A protest is a protest regardless of size or volume if it is aimed at municipal local delivery.

Another highly-disputed set of numbers is regularly issued by the South African Police Services (SAPS). What the SAPS people do not do is to delineate what constitutes actual ‘local government’ service delivery protests from the some 14 740 ‘incidents’. This becomes highly problematic because the media loves quoting numbers. And when numbers are quoted out of a realistic context, a skewed picture emerges, one of a nation crippled by so-called municipal delivery paralysis.

But who is involved in these protests?

Although no tangible studies have pin-pointed the exact culprits behind these municipal protests, several fingers have been pointed at a few political bodies such as the South African Communist Party (SACP), the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the South African Students Congress (SASCO), and the Ses’Khona People’s Rights Movement, the latter infamously known for their ‘poo protests’ in Cape Town. However, if one had to scour one’s television screens whenever these protests take place, it is unsurprising to find young people at the forefront of these local disturbances.

If our young people are not at school, university or work, where are they and what are they doing with their time? This takes us back to the ANC’s NGC documents which highlight the issue of “high unemployment among young people…combined with urbanisation which have created a large swathe of marginalised and alienated youth…with major implications for social stability”.

While others are heading off to study or to work in the morning, these young people are seeking another avenue to express themselves, to get the attention of those in control of State power. The party itself admits there is a “patent impatience with the pace of change”; and this could explain why mostly young people are leading these local protests. The party’s research — as quoted in the NGC documents — confirms that “the majority of youth are poor, with more than half of all 18–24 year olds living under the lower bound poverty line of R604 per month in 2011…more than two-thirds live under the higher bound poverty line of R1113 per month and…about half are unemployed, and about two-thirds are inactive”.

The documents worryingly further notes further that “95% of the unemployed (youth) do not have tertiary education, 62% have less than secondary education, and 60% have been unemployed for more than a year…unemployment affects young people the most; 40% of the unemployed are new entrants to the labour market, which are most likely to be young people; 72% of the unemployed are young people”.

As much as the party acknowledges that it has made great progress in the last 21-years of democratic governance, much still needed to be done as “millions” like the youth have been “left out” of South Africa’s commodity-based economy.
Considering this dangerous matrix of social indicators, what happens when the local political elite ignore these young ‘activists’? These protests begin to take on a new form, one identified by an altogether different shape and dimension — characterised by violence.

Violence accompanying the protests

Just as it has become commonplace to see protests on our television screens al,most every day, it is not uncommon to see a certain level of violence accompanying these demonstrations. Part of the violence we’ve been witnessing has been directly aimed at local councillors. For example, it was only recently in Malamulele, Limpopo, that local leaders faced the angry wrath of local residents when they refused to be incorporated into a different municipality. The protests rolled on for weeks, snowballing into something unrecognisable when houses, buildings, and cars were torched. The ANC took notice and immediately sent in their big guns, including Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) Minister Pravin Gordhan and officials from the Municipal Demarcation Board (MDB). A compromise was reached and the violence halted for a while.

But the ANC knows there are bigger issues at play especially when these protests are spurred by demarcation matters. This is why in its discussion documents a number of assertions are made on the matter. For example, the party notes that previous ANC national conferences “have mandated that the structure, role and mandate of the Demarcation Board be reviewed”, citing the numerous boundary reviews being “a constant source of concern for the ANC and communities”. It also flags the “ward delimitation process” as a “policy area” to be inspected more. For the ANC, it wants the demarcation process to be “aligned” with census data” in order to maximise delivery. In this way, by virtue of it being the ruling-party, the party hopes to address every possible service deliverable deficiency because it knows exactly who stays where; and who receives what. The ANC admits that the erratic delimitation of wards does “impact” on it and its structures because these re-drawing of local maps have an effect on overall municipal planning. At its up-coming NGC, it expects to find some kind of “mechanism” that limits ward boundary alterations.

Is there a communication problem?

The idea that a huge communication chasm persists between elected officials and local communities is not without merit. The ANC wants its councillors to be on the ground more interacting with communities and spending less time in meetings. One way of addressing this was the resolution taken at the party’s 53rd National Conference where it stated that it needed to improve relations between councillors and traditional leaders. Councillors in this sense needed to work as part of a bigger collective to resolve community service delivery dilemmas.

As part of its broader programme to change its fortunes in subsequent polls, the ANC recognises that its selection processes for councillors need introspection. The party wants councillors to be answerable to their local communities. And one way of managing this transparent relationship is through the proposed introduction of compulsory performance-management coupled with leadership and management training for “deployed cadres”. These “deployed” ANC officials will in turn be “micro-managed” by the party’s structures, including its Provincial Executive Committees, Regional Executive Committees and Branch Executive Committees.
Losing support in the metros?

The ANC is the first to admit it is losing support since the last two elections. It also singles out the EFF for tapping into the “support from informal settlements” and the Democratic Alliance (DA) for courting “minority voters”. It even concedes that the “most dramatic shifts” have indeed happened in the metros, with ANC support here declining by some 10.3%. For this reason, it notes in its NGC documents that “voting trends in the metros require the ANC to review its strategies and launch a programme dedicated at reversing the current trend”. The ANC is very concerned about its showing in the metros in next years elections. It knows that the DA and EFF, especially, are targeting middle-class voters.

One highly-prized metro that faces slipping out of ANC hands is the Nelson Mandela Bay metro in the Eastern Cape. In April/ May this year the party removed it’s ageing executive mayor in favour of the highly-dependable Dr Danny Jordaan. With Jordaan’s appointment, the party is hoping the metro won’t fall into opposition hands. The DA of course is already celebrating, declaring its Eastern Cape leader Athol Trollip as the mayor-in-waiting. The ANC’s fragile majority in the council was not helped recently when it lost a crucial ward by-election to the United Democratic Movement (UDM).

Moving forward

Come October 2015, the ANC is all set to discuss local government at length. It cannot afford to delay the much-needed intra-party introspection because the 2016 local government elections are but a few months away. I am particularly curious to see what the ANC’s National Executive Committee’s (NEC) Rapid Response Team (RRT) has to say regarding the ongoing protests. The RRT was charged with investigating the root cause of the protests, identifying hotspots; and introducing “remedial measures to stabilise and reduce protests”.

Whatever the NEC’s reports yield, it is clear that local government sphere is much wider than just isolating reasons why people take to the streets to air their frustrations. There is a much bigger monster lurking in the background. And if not found early, it could prove a bigger creature to deal with for the ANC come the 2016 elections and beyond.

Ronesh Dhawraj is a Specialist Researcher (Politics) with the SABC News department. He is currently engaged with his Ph D in political communication through the University of South Africa (UNISA).

– By ANALYSIS: Ronesh Dhwaraj