South Africa: Alex Shutdown Tests Promises Politicians Made to Communities

IEC voting station (file photo).

The residents of Alexandra have taken to the streets to draw attention to the plight of their community.

Among the issues they are placing on the agenda are the erecting of illegal dwellings and invasion of land, housing, refuse removal, crime and the prevalence of drugs.

These issues are not unique to Alexandra.

Even so, the Alexandra protests are of interest because of the timing, coming a few weeks before the general elections.

Politicians see election time as all about them.

They seldom want to focus too much on the past.

Campaigning is not about listening to the people but about telling the people once more why they should be entrusted with the power to govern.

The Alexandra shutdown is a test for political parties and politicians involved to demonstrate their responsiveness (or lack of it) to communities.

Like the residents of Bekkersdal some years ago, residents of Alexandra are compelling politicians to make the lead-up to elections less about making new promises but about answering to their failure to keep the old ones.

Apart from burning tyres and blocking the roads, the Alexandra shutdown has been notable for its relative peacefulness.

Government officials and political heads cannot use the prevalence of violence to deflect from the questions the community is raising.

Why is rubbish not collected and allowed to pile up?

Why are potholes not filled and sewerage not cleaned up?

Why have illegal structures been allowed to mushroom across the township?

Where is the housing that was promised to homeless Alex residents?

The Alex shutdown is also casting into the spotlight co-operative governance and its effectiveness, particularly where it involves more than one political party governing at the various levels of government.

Community leaders, members and ward councillors - seemingly through a loose coalition - have banded together to call City of Joburg mayor Herman Mashaba, Gauteng premier David Makhura and President Cyril Ramaphosa to account.

They have been strategic in taking a multi-level approach in directing their grievances to local, provincial and national government.

Issues can very quickly become politicised, leaving residents in limbo.

Many of the grievances raised are a local government competence.

The residents' demand to be addressed by the mayor was therefore not misplaced.

The charge that conveners of the protests are using the plight of Alexandra residents to score political points for the ANC in the lead-up to the elections does not detract from the situation there.

Although Mashaba argues that the challenges in Alexandra are historical, he cannot just dismiss the community.

He, as mayor, remains answerable.

That the DA has only been in government for two years while the ANC governed the city for decades does not excuse him from accounting.

A better strategy could have been to meet with the community to hear them out and then detail to them, from the city's perspective, what the city has done and is doing, the challenges the city is encountering and the historical legacies that may be contributing to the delays in delivery of services.

To say glibly that it's the ANC's fault, even if that may be the case, is not good enough.

Politicians need to disabuse themselves of the view that voting is the only legitimate form of participation and that between elections, outside of imbizos and requests for submissions, communities must only be seen and not heard.

More From: Democracy Works

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