Belief in government promises is a key to local elections

Belief in government promises is a key to local elections
January 9, 2006

By Penny Sukhraj

At least two councillors were murdered and the homes of many others were torched in 881 protests last year – an average more than two a day. These actions were the result of the anger South Africans vented in violent shows of dissatisfaction at the government’s poor service delivery.

Now local government elections loom, and the ANC has produced yet another set of promises to deliver services and get councillors to do their jobs.

However, political observers warn this may not be enough to convince South Africans to vote in March.

In KwaZulu Natal, 20 000 shack dwellers of the Abahlali Base Mjondolo (shack-dwellers movement) have taken a “no land, no vote” stance.

Representative S’bu Zikode said yesterday that voting meant “giving a platform to the liars”.

“We’re sick and tired of empty promises from the government.
“Voting means putting politicians back in power to again oppress us. Anyone from our social movement will tell you it is a waste of time.

“Our problems of needing housing, sanitation, water and electricity are only mentioned around election time,” Zikode added.

David Hemson, a Human Sciences Research Council academic, said figures showed that although the government put efforts into certain areas, the backlog in service delivery had not diminished.

While 2,3-million households lacked water in 1994, now 2,6-million lacked water. And while about 1,6-million households were living in shacks in 1996, that number had risen to just over 2-million in 2004.

“These are the poorest of communities, from which we’ve seen the tyre-burning and violent protests over the year. “They’re also the most vulnerable in terms of Aids, crime, poverty, unemployment and abuse,” Hemson explained.

“A major problem is that the voice of the community is not really being projected, sometimes because of a lack of experience or inclination. “Therefore they also do not ensure that funding and delivery are followed through.”

Hemson said he believed that the government’s target of electrifying the whole of South Africa by 2012 was achievable, but he was not convinced that its other goals were realistic.

“The bucket system was supposed to be replaced by this year, but this has been pushed out another year. And based on current figures, it’s unlikely the government will be able to provide every household with clean running water and decent sanitation by 2010.”

Many of the 21-million voters captured in the registration process – up from the 18,5-million for the 2000 municipal poll – could still turn out faithfully at the polls.

However, protests during last year indicated that communities at every level were becoming more organised, to ensure they enjoyed the services they had been promised.

“If there is no delivery, as promised, there is sure to be a political fallout, as there is already in some areas. “If promises are not kept, there will be political repercussions,” Hemson warned.

University of KwaZulu Natal philosopher Richard Pithouse said the fact that the ANC wanted to act against corrupt councillors might be an indication that the party acknowledged that things had gone badly with council officials’ last term of office.

“The protests all over the country are a significant indication of people’s anger and disillusionment. “In some cases there were well over 5 000 people marching, and these were from among the poorest communities in the country.

“People have marched on councillors and have vented their anger at them because they are the accessible face of the government.” Pithouse said two councillors had been killed in Durban while others had their homes set alight by angry communities.

“Similar cases have emerged around the country where local councillors are extremely unpopular because they do not ensure delivery or show contempt for their constituencies. “But they are still put in positions by a top-down system. There is a lot of anger about that,” Pithouse added.

The ANC’s local government manifesto promised that the party would “resolutely fight laziness, arrogance and corruption” while using a budget of about R400-billion to provide proper sanitation, clean running water, electricity and jobs for South Africans.

Pithouse said: “I don’t think many people will believe the promises. We could see a marked drop in the number of people who vote in March.”