Deputy Chairperson, hon Minister, MECs and members of the House, service delivery protests, as you know so well, have persisted for much of the past year. In fact, the first three months of this year have seen an escalation of protests. According to experts, this is the highest number of protests for any three-month period since 1994. Moreover, to some of us, the protests seem to be more violent than in the past.
Mr Bekker, we need to understand these protests much better, and not dismiss them as chaos. Why are these protests taking place? Who are the key participants? In which municipalities and in which specific wards are these protests taking place, and why? Are there patterns to the protests? If so, what are they? Why are certain protests violent? What do the protests tell us about the model of local government? What do they reveal about the co- operative governance system we have at present? How do we respond to the protests? How do we ensure that they are reduced over time? Of course, there are more questions that we could ask too.
This input offers a contribution to addressing some of these questions. It is certainly not a comprehensive or adequate offer. It is meant to encourage debate and, even more importantly, appropriate action. One thing is clear: There are no easy answers to the questions just raised. There are complex and varying reasons for the protests. The protests have structural, systemic, political, economic, governance, psychological, emotional and other dimensions.
If we are to be effective in responding to the protests, we need to understand all the dimensions of the protests. This is not to say that we must be intellectual more than is necessary or have endless debates about them. We need to arrive at a practical understanding of these protests, and we need action to address them.
Most of the protests are about service delivery issues, but - as most of us know - are not just about that. Many of the protests have been taking place in better-performing wards and municipalities where there has, in fact, been significant service delivery. The protests are also about a range of other municipal issues, including maladministration, nepotism, fraud, corruption and the failure of councillors and administrators to listen to residents.
However, it is the rage of sections of the protestors and the extent of the violence and destruction they wreak that is striking. It reflects a far more fundamental alienation of people from our democracy. It suggests an acute sense of marginalisation and social exclusion. Many of the protestors come across as outsiders, that is those who feel that they have not got what is due to them, and will never ever do so; while others, not so long ago and not that different from them, have got something and have became insiders, as it were.
There are also others who are different and are outsiders, but are now insiders who are blocking the way for others to become insiders - the Somalis, Congolese, Pakistanis, Zimbabweans, and the like. The outpouring of xenophobic rage has to be partly understood in that context. In other words, it is easy for us, privileged and intellectuals as we might be, to look upon those people who do what they did to foreigners with disdain. But there is a structural underpinning for it. You and I would do the same thing if we didn't have jobs and had to pay the service delivery charges we have to pay. That is the point we are seeking to make.
It is anger, frustration and hopelessness that fuels some of the protests. In their case, burning clinics, libraries - as Ms Dube, the MEC from KZN told me - and social development offices, as well as other violent behaviour, constitute acts of both destruction and self-destruction. It may well be that some of them have passed their threshold, and their sense of persistent exclusion since 1994 is so entrenched that even significantly improving their material conditions is not going to easily reintegrate them into society.
For many of them, their sense of social exclusion has served to reinforce their brutalisation and dehumanisation under apartheid. For them, in other words, things were very bad under apartheid and have just not got better enough under democracy. They are, I think, going to constantly pose a challenge to our democracy, and we will have to come to terms with this.
For others, the violent behaviour constitutes acts of affirmation. It is seen as legitimate radical protest against a state that refuses to respond to their basic needs and as an important means of achieving these. After all, in the struggle against apartheid, such means were also used, even by some of us here.
But this is a democracy. Protests are a legitimate part of a democracy and can serve to enhance its quality, but violence isn't. Of course, we condemn the violence. However, doing so is not going to end it. We need to better understand the violence to more effectively respond to it. Of course, municipal councillors and officials must take their fair share of blame for the protests. However, to blame them fully for everything would be simplistic. Many of the protestors are alienated from the state as a whole, not just local government. They are alienated not just from the state, but from society too.
Moreover, the protests are also about many other issues that neither fall within the competency of local government nor are they its core responsibilities. They are also about housing, jobs, health, crime and other issues. The protests are about the failures of service delivery of all the three spheres of government, even if it's municipalities that are being targeted. Municipalities, after all, are easy targets. They are the immediate sphere of government to the people and are experienced most directly by them. It's not because - let me stress again - municipalities are not significantly to blame, of course.
The impact of the global recession on our country and the loss of some one million jobs over the past year have worsened an already bad unemployment situation. The dramatic increases in the cost of living with the recession have further fuelled the protests. In some municipalities, especially the larger urban ones, infrastructure and resources have been considerably strained too by the migration of people into areas that simply cannot cope.
I think we must also take into account that - the Minister also, once or twice, raised this with me very instructively - maybe we need to ask whether the post - 1994 state has, with all the social welfarism we have inculcated and internalised within people, not created a culture of dependency. Couldn't the post - 1994 state have made people think that to get what you want is to protest and you will get it, rather than taking responsibility for issues around service delivery, engaging in ward committees, school governing bodies and community police forums, and so on.
We tried to stress that aspects of the protests are beyond the control of municipalities. What they do is to reflect, ultimately, that it is the system of co-operative governance as a whole that is failing, not just local government.
Our department has put together some statistics based on what experts have said and what we have observed. From 2004 to 2010, 27% of the service delivery protests have taken place in Gauteng, 14% in North West, 12% in the Western Cape and Mpumalanga, 11% in the Free State, 10% in the Eastern Cape, 4% in Limpopo, and 3% in the Northern Cape. We note that about 45% of them have taken place in the metros and at least 34% in informal settlements.
Most of all, the protests reveal the failure of local democracy. Most of the people who take part in protests do so because they do not have adequate access to councillors, council officials, ward committees and other municipal structures. Clearly, the ward committee system is failing. Community development workers, CDWs, who are meant to connect residents with government departments, are not being effective either. Presumably, the school governing bodies, the community police forums and other statutory bodies are not playing their roles either.
Our Ministry has responded swiftly to the protests. As you know, our Minister has actively intervened. He will tell you that, in a significant number of cases, residents have protested only after having failed to get the attention of municipalities, provincial and national government departments through exchanges of public representatives, letters, memoranda, petitions, and the like. There is certainly a marked absence of communication between councillors and residents.
Despite significant advances, we must accept that there is inadequate delivery of basic services such as water, electricity, sanitation, sewerage, refuse removal, and the like. Increases in service fees, as I have noted earlier, have fuelled protests.
Sometimes protests take place because of service delivery. What will happen, of course, is that, if we deliver to one side of the informal settlement, we fuel protests on the other side to which we don't deliver. Residents from the latter side of the informal settlement will ask why we deliver to others and not to them. They'll argue that they are being marginalised because when they travel by bus or taxi they see that there is development taking place on the other side, but it is not coming to their area of the informal settlement.
So we must admit that there are complex reasons for the protests. Sometimes protests are spurred by decisions to move people living in informal settlements. People prefer to stay where they are because of proximity to workplaces or access to transport. There are shack lords with tenants renting shacks on their sites. These shack lords don't want to move because they will lose their businesses. In some cases, the shack lords do want to move, but their tenants will lose out so they, too, take part in the protests. People also refuse to move out because they feel they have not been consulted adequately.
Many municipalities, as we all know, are not governed effectively. Furthermore, the political divisions that tear municipalities apart cause protestors to also demand bluntly that the councillor, the mayor, or the Speaker must be removed, which is not something you can easily do. There are also internal power struggles within the majority party, as well as in all parties that run municipalities.
There are people who are, understandably, positioning themselves for 2011 and so they start to demonise and undermine councillors. There are people who look at 2010. The Minister and myself - but the Minister, especially - must be blamed for this because these are tactics that we have inculcated through the union movement, and now they are being used creatively against us. The year 2010 is around and you have more bargaining power. We must raise all these issues. [Interjections.] Dennis Bloem, you might want to forget your past, but you were very much part of those structures. [Laughter.]
So, what do we do about all of these? Well, there are many things that we can do. In the first instance, all three spheres of government need to work together to address the service delivery protests; not just municipalities, though they are primarily responsible. Secondly, we need to radically and effectively implement the local government turnaround strategy, LGTAS, that the Minister has spoken about. It's precisely because of the service delivery protests that we need the LGTAS. The more we implement the LGTAS, the more we reduce protests. Very crucially, comrades, we need to bring the leaders of these protests into the structures of the LGTAS and municipal- specific plans in the municipalities.
Thirdly, we need to anticipate these service delivery protests. My question to the CDWs, councillors, MPs, MPLs, and all of us is: Why are we not aware when these protests are going to take place whereas there are so many of us who work as public representatives?
Fourthly, we need to strengthen the ward committees, CDWs and other structures of community participation. Fifthly, on Wednesday we are going to present to Cabinet - the Minister will tell you - a structure which will have all the three spheres of government working together and responding rapidly to service delivery protests. The aim here, however, is not to supplant municipalities, but to empower them. We cannot say we cannot intervene when service delivery protests take place. In other words, we cannot be overwhelmed by issues of powers and functions because we are a system of co-operative governance.
Sixthly, as you well know - we said it to you last year and the Minister has said it again - we want to say that we are reviewing the powers and functions of the local government. Local government will remain a sphere and we will remain a co-operative governance system, but the nature of the distribution of powers and functions has to change. Seventhly, Salga has a crucial role to play.
Eighthly, you, as the NCOP, are more on the ground than us in the National Assembly. You, too, can play a crucial role, and we would like to congratulate you on your visits. We would like you to monitor the implementation of the LGTAS. In the 30 seconds left, we want to say that we are not going to eliminate service delivery protests, but the violence that goes with it. Service delivery protests are important. They are an endemic part of a democracy, as well as an important barometer of progress. They are fine; they must exist. The more we establish ward committees, the more we will reduce them. The more CDWs operate, the more we will reduce them.
In short, we are saying that all of us are complicit in these service delivery protests. Let us not just point at councillors. Finally, the Minister said you should memorise the LGTAS. I agree with him, but you should not memorise like the little boy did in the following short story.
There was a little schoolboy who didn't understand the singular helping verb and plurals correctly. He kept on saying: "I is going home." His teacher used to get upset with him and say: "No, no, I am going home." Eventually, the teacher got fed up and said to the boy: "You are to remain in class! You are detained, and I want you to write 'I am going home' a thousand times!" Of course, the boy complied. About 45 minutes later, everybody was gone. The teacher went to the staff room in order to smoke or engage with the woman teachers. That's needless to say; you know how it is.
In the meantime, the little boy is waiting and getting fed up. It's an hour later and he is done writing "I am going home" a thousand times. He writes on the board: "Dear teacher, I have written 'I am going home' a thousand times; now I is going home." [Laughter.] [Applause.]