By Ella Smook
Metro Writer – IOL
Groups representing impoverished Cape Town communities have lashed out at President Jacob Zuma’s warning that the government will not tolerate violent service delivery protests, and the accompanying destruction of property.
Representatives of the Joe Slovo task team, the Landless People’s Movement and Abahlali baseMjondolo defended these protests, saying they were the only way to get the government to pay attention.
“So-called democratic grievance routes,” failed to get answers, they said.
Zuma’s comments came yesterday during his address to most of South Africa’s 283 mayors and all its premiers. He told them there was “no cause in a democratic and free society, however legitimate, that justifies the wanton destruction of property and violence” that had been witnessed in the country.
“South Africa has a proud history of protest against wrong-doing and injustice,” Zuma said.
“There is no institution or individual that our people cannot stand up to and challenge if they think an injustice has been committed.”
But the three organisations, which form part of the national Poor People’s Alliance, said Zuma’s words were nothing new.
“We are not surprised by what he is saying. We have heard these statements in the past that government will not tolerate these protests,” said Mzwanele Zulu of the Joe Slovo task team.
He accused the ANC government of forever “duplicating and assimilating” practices of the apartheid government.
“What is happening is our leaders are turning against us when they are in power. We are becoming foreigners in our land of birth,” he said.
Zulu argued that burning tyres as a sign of dissatisfaction was not a violent means of expression, and said the only reason it was done was in an attempt to engage government authorities, something which did not happen when they tried the legitimate channels.
Maureen Mnisi of the Landless People’s Movement, said government departments had done “a lot of ignoring”.
“People submit memoranda over a lack of service delivery, but there is no reply. People don’t deliver,” she said.
“To demonstrate on the street is part of the process. The government has to recognise that. If they can’t tolerate (such) actions, they have to provide services,” Mnisi said.
Mzonke Poni of Abahlali said that if South Africa were a democracy, “then democracy was supposed to have been able to improve these appalling conditions people are living under”.
He said the inability to access essential services was also a form of violence.
“It is reactionary of him (Zuma) to say this. The ANC government has failed to deliver services to the poorest of the poor, and they have tried in the past to shift the blame for service delivery failures.”
Poni said people viewed taking to the streets as legitimately exercising their right to freedom of expression.
Meanwhile, Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane said yesterday that the face of local government was set to change, in an effort to improve service delivery at municipal level.
He said there was a need for reform in the local government regulatory framework, and that the relationships between the spheres of government needed to be optimised to speed up delivery and ensure efficiency.
Chabane, speaking after Zuma’s indaba yesterday, said several processes aimed at local government reform would start from today.
o This article was originally published on page 4 of Cape Argus on October 21, 2009