Landless People’s Movement (LPM) Sees Through Local Government Divide and Rule Strategy

26 03 2009

4 MARCH 2009

The councillor in Protea South, an informal settlement in Soweto, has repeatedly stated that she is accountable to the ANC government and not to the community of Protea South. This has undermined the ability of the community to work closely with our councillor to meet our basic demands. It should be made clear that, whenever the community has a mass meeting, it is under the banner of the LPM who represents the majority of the people in Protea South. The community of Protea South has been living there for 20 years with no changes in living conditions.

The previous 2 councillors, who were elected to represent the people of Protea South in the new democratic South Africa, delivered nothing. Now that the current local councillor has also failed to bring any development whatsoever in the past 4 years, the LPM is demanding that the councillor step down and be replaced by a community representative that accounts to the people of Protea South instead of any political party.
In Protea South, we have a Community Policing Forum (CPF). The CPF, by remaining part of the government structure, has unfortunately been unable to assist the community in meeting its demands. According to the CPF rules and regulations, one can either voluntarily become a member of the CPF to protect the interests of the community, or they can be elected by the community. But, even if one has volunteered to be a CPF member, they have to introduce themselves to the community. But, the CPFs in Protea South never did that. Instead, they were selected by the ANC leadership. And it is clear that this was done to protect the interests of the councilor and ANC members. The councillor bribes CPF members with food vouchers and this is also a strategy we see the ANC undertaking as we work towards the 2009 elections. Here, the strategy creates the danger that the CPF will be biased in favour of the government, thereby undermining the CPF’s ability to protect the community at large.

This happened on Sunday the 1st March when we, as the LPM, submitted our memorandum in the community hall of Protea South. The councillor started to interrupt us by singing while we were submitting it, and she was supported by the CPF members who backed her in chorus. That is when the community and CPF members started to exchange harsh words. The CPF members were not protecting the community as a whole, but protecting the ANC councillor.

The divisions in the community unfortunately led the community to turn against each other in violence. After the meeting, two members of the CPF were beaten up by the community with stones and fists and they were sent to the hospital. On the following day, three members of the community were beaten by the CPF members and one was taken to the hospital. As a result, the community was angry that the CPF members were fighting with them and some community members felt that they should be removed from Protea South as they no longer recognised the CPF as community members. But, the leaders of the LPM condemned that as they saw that this was dividing the community.

CPF members in Protea South are part of a further systemic problem since they are being used to make sure that the leaders of community movements such as the LPM are behind bars. They are even being used to lie, as witnesses of the state, thereby blaming activists for crimes that they did not commit. On the same Sunday, the CPF later identified Maureen Mnsisi, and other activists, to the police who were then arrested. The activists were finally released from Protea Magistrate Court Wednesday on bail. It will soon be proven to the public that these activists were unjustly arrested as they are guilty of no crimes whatsoever. In fact, they were trying to stop the violence that had begun between the CPF and the community earlier that day. If the police, the government and the CPF were honest, what these activists should really be charged with is their attempts to bring about peace and to claim a kind of mass power that can protect the poor from a government in power that is only willing to account to itself.

The leaders of the LPM see that the members of the CPF are people who are also affected by the same issues, as we are all poor. While we are fighting our struggles, we are also fighting for them. But the CPF could not see that because the councillor had won them through the favour of these food vouchers. The system is pushing to get us to fight against each other. But, if we did so, that would be a loss for the poor communities and a win for the government because they would have succeeded in their divide and rule strategy. When we are divided and fighting against one another, it is easier for the councillor to get through us and easier to suppress our demands. Maureen Mnsisi explained this at an LPM community meeting when she said that the system uses a poor person against another poor person and that this makes our voice suddenly become quiet. That is why the leaders of the LPM decided that we need not to attack the CPF, but to teach them and let them come and join us in our struggle so that the poor can claim community control over development and be united as one.

The apartheid government also tried to tear communities apart by bribing individuals to turn on community leaders. We will not fall for this any more and we will not except this in our new democracy. Now that the leaders of the LPM have been released from police custody, we have elected 40 people who can serve to protect the interests of our whole community, not a select few. We must ensure that CPFs work independently from the government so that they can protect and support (rather than suppress and disempower) all members of our communities including those acting as leaders and representatives.


Bongani Xezwi – LPM Protea South Youth Organiser (071-043-2221)
Luke Sinwell – Researcher and Activist, University of Johannesburg (079-144-4323)



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