Category Archives: Mphutlane wa Bofelo

Pambazuka: Police brutality and service delivery protests

Police brutality and service delivery protests
Mphutlane wa Bofelo
2011-04-21, Issue 526

The six policemen arrested for the murder of protestor, Andries Tatane in Meqheleng Township in Ficksburg in South Africa’s Free State are ‘political scapegoats’. To put it bluntly, the six are ‘sacrificial goats’ on the altar of populist, grandstanding and electioneering politics. Their arrest is a quick ploy to take attention away from the systemic factors that inform police brutality. It is aimed at absolving the collective responsibility of South African Police Services (SAPS) and its political principal, the ANC-led government. It is the timing of the incident rather than government’s intolerance to police brutality that informs the arrest of the six cops. The number of incidents of intimidation, harassment, torture, arrest and shooting of protestors by police during peaceful protest action in the post 1994, neo-apartheid dispensation is alarming. Families, individuals and organisations that lay complaints to the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) and various state institutions about incidents of illegal arrests and illegal shootings, harassment and torture and ‘disappeared dockets’ often wait forever for any kind of response.

Usually there is hardly a public announcement, let alone a report of investigation of incidents of police brutality. Instead, incidents of harsh repression of protests by the police are often followed by stern pronouncements by the state and government officials amounting to criminalisation of protest action and radical acts of civil disobedience. These statements are often accompanied by warnings to the public that the police will deal harshly with those involved in these acts. As a matter of fact, statements labelling civil disobedience as criminal acts and amounting to threats of harsh police action have featured in the state of the nation addresses of both former president, Thabo Mbeki and the current state president, Jacob Zuma. When you add ‘the shoot-to-kill’ injunction of the police chief Bheki Cele to state indifference to public complaints and public pronouncements that criminalise protest action and justify repressive measures to suppress it, you have a policy and systematic framework that sanctions and fuels police brutality.

As for the protests against lack of service delivery, one does not need to be a rocket scientist to know that public discontent is mainly the result of failure of government policies and programmes to provide sustainable and quality jobs, free and quality public education, health and transport, decent and habitable housing and free water and electricity to all citizens. There is also common agreement that the protests are fuelled by an absence of genuine and direct participation of communities in the design, implementation and evaluation of planning, governance and development; the complete disregard of public opinion; and the capture of ward committees and other public platforms and state institutions and resources by narrow and selfish party and elite interests. This is exacerbated by the allocation of state tenders, jobs and promotions in public administration only to comrades, friends and family members and various forms of cronyism and nepotism, maladministration and corruption including jobs for sex.

There is no doubt that unequal social and power relations and inequitable allocation of resources as well as unequal access to amenities and services has an impact on public participation and on the organisational capacity of communities to engage in effective lobbying and advocacy. This also affects the extent to which different communities and sectors of society can effectively make use of tools and platforms such as research, print and electronic media, public hearings, petitions and submissions on policies. The reality is that success of various forms of lobbying, advocacy and influencing public policy still rely heavily on the quality and quantity of financial, technological, material and human recourses and social capital at the disposal of communities.

A critical factor to also consider is that citizen action and public participation is either aided or disenabled and sabotaged by state agency and state capacity. The receptivity or non-receptivity of government institutions to the voice of communities largely determines the form that public discontent will take. In South Africa the incapacity or reluctance of state and public institutions to respond proactively to public concerns and needs or to take decisive action has diminished their faith in government and state institutions.

Public scepticism has been worsened by the bad state of internal democracy in political parties and by the general impression that politicians and parties only use popular support as a leverage and device to attain power and wealth for themselves. Among other things, this has led to the reduction in the numbers of people who attend public gathering and public hearings, greater mistrust of politicians and political institutions, and a decline in voter turn out. For an example, the voter turnout in the national general election in SA decreased from 19.5 million people in 1994 to just over 16 million in 1999, and fewer than 16 million in 2004.

It is this lack of trust of formal structures and processes for placing demands on the state that drives both peaceful and aggressive expressions of protest action and civil disobedience. Therefore, instead of criminalising protest action and civil disobedience, the government should design and implement a coherent and practical programme of transforming the organisational culture and value system of state bureaucracies and public administrations. Currently the Batho Pele initiative is just words on a piece of paper, without a concrete sanctions and incentive framework that enforces adherence and performance. It is therefore not capable of yielding a service culture, transparency or transformed attitudes of public administration staff and government officials. Clearly the solution to these problems is processes and platforms that locate people and communities at the centre of designing, planning, implementing and evaluating policy, governance and development. This would include effectively making people to be at the centre of designing protocols, systems and structures of security and policing in their communities and transforming SAPS into a police force that protects communities rather than one attacks them.

‘Black boers’ and other revolutionary songs

‘Black boers’ and other revolutionary songs

by Chris Rodrigues

A hat tip to Mphutlane wa Bofelo for pointing out the subtext to the ANC’s claim to the “shoot the boer!” song: For is it not the case, as wa Bofelo points out, that the attempt to establish a heritage status for the song locates the struggle in the past? And what of the new songs that the poor sing today? Songs like, “amabhunu amnyama asenzela i -worry” — “black boers cause us worries”. Does this current storm in Julius Malema’s teacup not also divert attention from this reality?

Part of the problem resides in the fact that the media tends to follow the blindingly obvious — in this case, the day-to-day pronouncements of those who hold political office. The body politic is, however, capable of other forms. The University of Abahlali baseMjondolo — the University of the Shack Dwellers — is a case in point. University? Shack dwellers? What kind of politics is this that doesn’t seek parliamentary representation? Still, it’s unforgivable that in a country where protests occur with such frequency — there is no ink spilt analysing contemporary idioms.

Anthems, as the Uruguayan essayist Eduardo Galeano says, are often full of “threats, insults, self-praise, homages to war, and the honourable duty to kill and be killed”. The archetypal Marseillaise, for instance, warns that the Revolution “will water the fields with the impure blood” of the invaders. Terrifying stuff but once institutionalised, as Messrs Malema and Motlanthe are arguing, these songs of death and victory are sentimentalised and tamed. They are no longer sung outside the Bastille but inside the Stade de France. In the ANC’s case — we could draw a distinction between singing near Casspirs, and singing in the vicinity of parking lots full of SUVs.

It is, rather, the adaptation of a song, or a new song sung by the excluded that is, as the philosopher Slavoj Zizek argues in First as Tragedy, Then as Farce — the truly revolutionary anthem. Working from the premise that “universal humanity is visible at the edges” — a phrase he borrows from Susan Buck-Morss — he describes how the newly self-liberated black slaves of Haiti faced down the French soldiers sent to crush their republic, by singing the Marseillaise. As Zizek suggests, in that moment, they were asserting:

“In this battle, we are more French than you, the Frenchmen, are — we stand for the innermost consequences of your revolutionary ideology, the very consequences you were not able to assume.”

Could we not say the same with the “black boers cause us worries”? Not only are the poor demonstrating their non-racialism (a black person can also be a boer — a metaphor for an oppressor), they are simultaneously radicalising, through differentiating class from race, what the ANC’s theorists would call the national democratic revolution.

Indeed, it must be somewhat unsettling for the ANC (as in Zizek’s example, the French), who once held a revolutionary initiative, to hear new analyses of the struggle — like the following from Abahlali:

“It is the community organisations and poor people’s movements who are protesting around the country who are true to the spirit of the struggle against apartheid. The politicians who try to herd the people into stadiums to tell them that the politicians in their cavalcades are the true inheritors of the spirit of that struggle have made themselves our enemies.”

All it seems the ANC can say is that we once sang a seditious song and what is now required is — as represented by our regime — obedience to that heroic heritage. Regrettably, a judicial ruling has breathed new life into what is an anachronistic farce for, as Karl Marx might have said, the ANC “only imagines that it believes in itself and asks the world to share in its fantasy”.

Sixteen years of neo-liberal economics dressed up in leftist drag means that a new generation are singing real songs again. These old-new freedom songs are, routinely, met with rubber bullets. It underscores one of wa Bofelo’s points — that people have always known that “it does not only take a white skin to install or perpetuate a system based on unequal allocation of power and inequitable distribution of wealth and resources”.

Here, however, we enter a more thought-provoking terrain and, again, Zizek is useful. He inverts Marx’s old definition of farce by insisting that “contemporary cynicism” as regards ideology (post-modernism, if you like) only imagines “that we do not “really believe” in our ideology [for] in spite of this imaginary distance, we continue to practice it”.

In other words, is not all this attention on Malema, and on a long-in-the-tooth song, not an illusory fight that both the black and white bourgeoisie would prefer to a real one over, dare we say it, communism of some sort? Is it not that the bourgeoisie believe in capitalism so much that they would rather chose a Janus-faced soap-opera (with its empty posturing and hysterical condemnation) than confront the ideological challenge posed by the new anti-capitalist movements? Is it not the case that a clown prince is (even to the SACP) preferable to a real communist?

A few years ago, the Financial Mail, wrote something particularly telling in regard to the then president-in-waiting. It was in the edition entitled, “Be Afraid”. “It’s not the corruption and rape charges that investors and SA business think about when they think of Zuma,” said feature writer Carol Patton, “it’s the simple fact that he has a far more radical support base than Mbeki”.

That someone could be radical — let alone a class for itself — is the spectre haunting South Africa’s rainbow elites. The “shoot the boer!” song represents then, in a Freudian sense, only a symptomatic return of this repressed fear.

“But what about farm attacks/killings”, someone could ask? Are these not, as AfriForum and the Democratic Alliance assert, a literal enactment of that song?

This question also masks its ideology. We should first ask what a farm attack/killing is? And once both phrases also include the attack/killing of farm workers by farm owners, we should ask what motivates farm owners to attack/kill farm workers? The answer to that question will, no doubt, extend the initial inquiry well beyond the three words of a song.

There is, of course, a more obscure question — one that proves that the blind are leading the blind — and it’s whether the murder of an abusive white supremacist, like Eugene Terre’Blanche, is attributable to others’ “hate speech”?

Let’s stop changing the topic. South Africa has been dubbed “the protest capital of the world”. The recent Kennedy Road attacks, which left two dead and Abahlali activists hiding in safe houses, are harbingers of an intensifying class struggle. As one of its members said: “The ANC regards [Abahlali] — not the other official political parties — as their true opposition, because we are closer to the pain on the ground.”

Still far from the dream of Biko – Reflections on the 1976 youth uprising

Still far from the dream of Biko
Reflections on the 1976 youth uprising

by Mphutlane wa Bofelo

Imprisoned at 17 as an anti-apartheid activist, Mphutlane wa Bofelo emerged even more determined to confront the system. It was the dream of ‘the freedom of our people’ that people act with boldness and bravery, he writes, even though ‘we knew the ultimate price could be death’. Yet 33 years after the 1976 youth uprising, confronting living conditions in Durban’s Kenville squatter camp, wa Bofelo considers why ‘former freedom fighters can sometimes be more vicious in attempts to abort freedom’. As Kenville residents consider class action against the government for decent housing, wa Bofelo wonders why South Africans should have to go to court to secure constitutionally enshrined basics of water and housing. ‘How can you have a sense of self-respect and dignity when you live in opulence but your brothers and sisters… live in squalor?’ asks wa Bofelo. ‘Pity how it seems we joined the struggle to be rich materially but poor in spirit!’

June 16 is a day that brings both painful and joyous memories to me, as in the 80s a whole lot of things happened as we dodged bullets and caspirs, fighting to ensure that days like 16 June, 21 March, 1 May and 12 September are not treated as ordinary days. I guess that is the reason why yesterday left me full of tears. Like many of my peers, I joined the struggle against apartheid-capitalism at a very tender age. At the age of 17 I was arrested and subjected to severe torture. I spent 18 months in detention-without-trial, after which I was given a one-year prison sentence for ‘possession of subversive material.’

Most of us came out of prison more determined to confront the system. We established organs of people’s power and made it impossible for the apartheid regime to continue with their business as usual. We dared to grasp the bull by its horns and established underground structures of Umkonto weSizwe(MK), Azanian National Liberation Army (AZANLA)and Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA) under the watchful eyes of the system and its stooges and vigilantes. What kind of dream made us to do the kind of bold and brave – and sometimes reckless – things we did when we knew the ultimate price could be death? We knew that the ultimate price was the freedom of our people, not death! You can never kill a free spirit. But when I look at the kind of conditions I saw yesterday, I wonder why it is that former freedom fighters can sometimes be more vicious in attempts to abort freedom or even kill the spirit of freedom.

Yesterday I joined the provincial executive committee (PEC) of the Socialist Party of Azania (SOPA) as they marked the national youth uprising of June 1976 with a visit to its members, supporters and the general residents of the squatter camp next to the refuse recycling dump near the Kenville Suburb in Durban. This the place where all the sewerage from Durban is emptied. This visit really left me in tears. The objective of the visit was to listen to the views and stories of the residents and share ideas with them on expediting the process of finding decent and habitable housing for them, as well as ways of ameliorating their conditions in the meantime. The chairperson of SOPA in KwaZulu-Natal, Asha Moodley, and general secretary Patrick Mkhise told the residents that their aim with the visit was to highlight the plight of the multitudes of people who still find themselves landless and homeless after fifteen years of democracy.

Moodley also told the residents that they thought it prudent to hear from the residents what the situation is and also to be guided by them as to the possible action that can be taken to address their situation. She also emphasised that the party decided to visit after the election so that their fact-finding mission and discussion with the community should not be misconstrued as an electioneering and vote-catching ploy. The briefing that the PEC of the Socialist Party of Azania got from the residents was that their families have been squatting in the vicinity of Kenville for thirty years. In the 1990s they were moved to the squatter camp near the refuse damp.

The major problem is that this specific place is not conducive for human settlement. Whenever it rains the whole area is flooded. The shacks are built with wooden and plastic material, and are so close to each other that when one shack catches fire the whole block of shacks is consumed by fire. The suffocating smell from the refuse dump exacerbates the health hazards in the area. The Ethekwini municipality has built eight communal toilets, four for women and four for men. These toilets are at the main road on the outskirts of the squatter camp, which makes it difficult for people living far to use the toilets. It also exposes residents, particularly children and women, to crime at night. The communal taps are also located at the main road on the outskirts of the area. The residents get their electricity through illegal connections from the poles that deliver electricity to the formal houses in Kenville.

As a result of these illegal connections many children have been electrocuted to death. The residents listed unemployment and poverty as the major problems facing them and indicated there are no poverty alleviation programs by either government or NGOs in the area. There is also no safe space and facilities for children to play. Another problem raised in the meeting was that political affiliations often are a stumbling block to the capacity of residents to speak in one voice in addressing their issues. There are three political parties with visible and active presence in the area, Inkatha Freedom Party, African National Congress and the Socialist Party of Azania. Often the government takes advantage of these divisions to throw a spanner in the works of any effort towards united action on the issue of housing. Between 2005 and 2006, the Socialist Party of Azania had a series of protest marches where it submitted a petition on the housing demands of the residents to both the provincial government and the eaThekwini municipality. There were also series of meetings between SOPA and the Ethekwini Municipality where the party tabled proposals on decent and habitable housing alternatives.

After endless meetings without meaningful decisions, the municipality representatives ultimately told SOPA that since it is a political party it must prove its worth by attaining seats in the local government where it can raise issues relating to housing, or else it must shut its mouth. Last year the residents of the squatter camps around Kenville marched to raise their issues. It is alleged that at this meeting the local councillor of the area under which the squatter camp nearby the refuse dump falls told the meeting that there were no problems in his area. In view of this history, the 16 June consultation mandated SOPA to explore possibilities of petitioning their local councillor as well as class action whereby the eThekwini municipality and the provincial government is taken to court for attack on the rights of the residents of the Kenville squatter camp to housing, security and human dignity.

The meeting also agreed that residents across the political spectrum need to be consulted and that contact be made with the local development committee. The committee was established by the Ethekwini municipality though some residents have reservations that it is mostly constituted by ANC members who just endorse whatever they are told by government officials. After the meeting the leadership of SOPA had a brief informal discussion with two members of the development committee.

The committee members informed SOPA that by October this year some households in this squatter camp will be relocated to the adjacent area where there are some spaces in between formal houses and shacks. They indicated that shackdwellers from other areas in the vicinity of Kenville are also going to be relocated there. This means that only a small number of the shackdwellers at this specific squatter camp will actually be relocated. The said area is already dense and is still within the vicinity of the refuse dump, which means there really will not be much change in the wellbeing and quality of the lives of these residents. The resettling of people from a squalid dumping place to just lesser squalid conditions raises the question as to the significance of the change from the department of housing to the department of human settlement.

The positive interpretation will be that ‘human settlement’ entails the provision of more than housing, and indicates that the houses will have adequate yards that provide for food gardening and other activities and should go along with social amenities and be within reasonable distance to places of employment, etc.

The negative interpretation will be that in the meantime, while government cannot provide housing for all, it will resettle people from inhabitable shack squatter camps to shack dwellings or concrete slabs (RDP ‘pondokies’ in informal settlements with some modicum of development, but still lacking several essential amenities. The progress report (the two gentlemen were very delighted to use the term) provided by the gentlemen from the development committee seem to point in the direction of the latter definition. (One hopes that Kenville scenario is an exception, and only time will tell). Essentially ‘the progress report’ by the two committee members indicated no tangible progress. This means that SOPA in collaboration with other civil society organisations and progressive institutions should still consider the class action and other ways of forcing government to provide decent, habitable housing with proper yards and social amenities.

How is it possible that we have arrived at the point where people take a people’s government to court for such basic things as water and housing, which the constitution fully enshrines? Just recently a South African court ruled in favour of the people for their right to water. Guess who took the people to the appeal court to try and overturn the decision of a judge who is probably inherited from apartheid era? The appeal court ruled in favour of the people. Guess who is thinking of appealing the decision through the constitutional court? Who stood against the decision of the victims of the apartheid-capitalism to take the big corporates that benefited from this system to the international court? Who? Who killed Biko and Hani and Solomon Mahlangu and Hector Peterson and Muntu ka Myeza and Masabata lwate and many others? The Boers and their vigilantes only killed the flesh. The spirit of Mahlangu, Biko, Hani, Peterson, lwate is being killed here and now by us. The Boers failed to kill Biko and Hani. We are succeeding where apartheid-capitalism failed. We kill the spirit of Tambo and Biko everyday. We hate each other. We kill each other. We rape our children . We burn our grandmothers. We love beautiful things for ourselves but ask our brothers and sisters to endure conditions such as Kenville squatter camp. for them Rome will be built in zilion years, for us it takes only one day in office as a CEO, counsellor, director, business big-shot to relocate from Zamdela to Vaalpark and from Mofolo to Hougton.

Who killed Biko? Botha? No, Botha did not, could not, kill Biko. Malan could not. Only we could. Only we can. NONE BUT OURSELVES ARE THE ENEMY. To kill the enemy we really have to kill the enemy within. Who said Black Consciousness is no longer relevant? Wake up black people and all justice loving whites and peoples of the world. Black Consciousness, instil in us the love for ourselves, so that we can radiate that love to embrace all human beings with love. We are still far from this dream of Biko, Africa giving the greatest gift to humanity: A more human face. This is only possible if we love ourselves. An African proverb says: ‘Do not accept a gift of a suit from a naked person.’ How can a person who does not love himself and his people lie to you and say he loves you. How can you have a sense of self-respect and dignity when you live in opulence but your brothers and sisters, fathers and uncles, neighbours and relatives live in squalor? Pity how it seems we joined the struggle to be rich materially but poor in spirit! ilitye lika Biko li nxonxozile lizovulwa ngubani? Vuka ntsundu. tsoha guerilla, steve biko o batla masole. o robaletseng. AZANIA KE YA RONA.THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES. THE STRUGGLE IS ETERNAL.