‘Service delivery’ protests perhaps an untested claim !

‘Service delivery’ protests perhaps an untested  claim !

South Africa is a protest friendly country. Protests are not new and from an apartheid context were always used as a means of defiance when people were denied the democratic franchise of a vote.

“Service delivery protests” or orchestrated  opportunistic campaigns mirrored in actions of showing a country ungovernable. Maybe the question we increasingly will have to deal with is what is permissible from parties in  political-engagement if an election is in the offing? Can potential underhand tactics of revolutionary claim stand the test of scrutiny?

We are bombarded by those who count these claimed protests in almost deified name of “service delivery” we are informed we have on any given day 32 protests. A few natural and seldom uncontested assumptions are drawn by those who feed the dictum of an emerging revolution as gleaned from what they have consciously termed ‘service delivery’ protest.

They claim the proverbial Arab Spring has sprung in SA. They claim a sweltering summer of discontent  immanent in a natural revolutionary unfolding. The revolution for those who claim its presence these are led by a uniformed group of backers from a crossbreed of political shades of colour and persuasions. It is also naturally assumed that the revolution as in most instances in the history of nations comes targeted at the establishment.

As romantic, as this may sound the claim is not devoid of rightful challenge. The authenticity of this less tested or explained hegemonic unitary claims of revolution proves less scientific and in wanton in corroboration. It can even be argued that the claim is vacuous particularly since the usage of ‘service delivery’ as a description of the protest is never duly entertained.

This trend is becoming very common in SA. It reminded me of the Northern Cape schools impasse I was blessed to participate in attempt of resolving during the last quarter of 2012. The levelled claims in all media forms even in mass meetings always advanced this claim of service delivery absence.

Yet closer examination attests that this claim of service delivery was immanent in a 130km stretch of road demanded to be built before the schools would be allowed normalization in the Kuruman area.. In the Olifantshoek area, the issues ventilated from the community had twists of corruption claims, and the removal of the now late Mayor Maria Danitsa. In our walkabouts and door-to-door visits to the people of Olifantshoek, we were introduced to claims of “bishop we also want to eat – our children will go back to school when we also can eat like they eat.”

Having spent much time in visiting Olifantshoek the centre of gravity for the schools impasse, we became convinced that the claims altered as the wind blew, but the  borrowed robes of ‘service delivery’ protest as conceptualised by  some, and fuelled by a lusty media remained the  blanket of escape.

We watched the library and all key places that resemble community infrastructure destroyed by those who claim they engaged in ‘service delivery’ protests. We observed a community gripped in fear of itself as petrol bombs flared on the homes of those wrongly considered sell-outs.

On my maiden trip to Olifantshoek (the costs  carried by myself), we through the facilitation of Evangelist Barend Van Wyk were able to bring together 37 church leaders, challenging them to lead in the absence of political leadership. Our first encounter proved fruitful for  the clergy repented and agreed on a plan of action to have the schools reopened soonest. On the eve of my return visit, I received funny phone calls of intimidation and warnings from some who felt the religious intervention will scupper their cause. I told them I was not scared for apartheid and its ungodly underhand tactics and will not in this season in defence of our children’s right to education prove perturbed to trudge that road again. The next SMS I received attempted an instruction that I must contact Julius Malema to which I rightfully responded let Mr. Julius Malema call me, he should have my number.

We went ahead and ended up engaging the five young men accredited for  leading the Olifantshoek ‘service – delivery’ protests. When we engaged with them in the place of their restricted confines, we found that service delivery had nothing to do with as my recorded discussion attest. The axis for the protest was internal organisational party politics. (The experience of this episode is now being written under the heading “Lest we fail the African child – Memoirs of a Religious Intervention Experience).

A careful assessment will confirm that the schools impasse started around June of 2012 that saw the children never return from mid-year break. It in a sense almost ran parallel with the much publicised Marikana tragedy. The latter incidently also had nothing to do with service delivery but organised labour politics and personality agendas. It was interesting to see how the Marikana tragedy was capitalised on by some who saw fertile soil in this our collective tragedy.

I am saying all of this to argue the claim of service delivery protest is an easier used construct and seldom engaged in scrutiny of the claim.

Whilst the protests may be true, what is yet to be proven is that that these constitute in a justifiable and scientific sense a true service delivery protest. My understanding is that most recognised research reports attest that contrary to the claims of non-deliverance SA in 20 years have delivered, in all spheres, which energises a claim of service delivery. I deliberately will not bore you with the reports from credible institutions on SA’s overall performance thus far. Suffice to say if we have failed it is in the creation of jobs, yet this claim is also not a uniquely South African one. The efforts afoot confirm the seriousness of a current ANC leadership in dealing with this elusive for the entire democratic journey aspect of job creation. This is exacerbated by the global context and dynamics  evidenced in Europe and all leading world countries remaining confronted with the same demon of unemployment particularly for the youth.

Is it not time we ask again what a protest is and what governs a protest in democracy. Democracy innately welcomes the right to protest as a means of registering dissatisfaction with a situation or condition even a circumstance.

As late as yesterday the last weekend of official registration we received reports of people intimidated and denied to participate in the final registration process a constitutional prerogative of all in SA.

Can we really claim the recent service delivery protests in North West where water was cut off by a farmer, a non –delivery issue? Yes the tragedy of death remains that which any normal and civil society must bemoan, but we cannot afford obfuscating the reasons for the protest in the results of the protest. Can we honestly advocate services are not delivered to the most vulnerable in the supply of water, electricity, health, education, social welfare, housing, and other basic amenities? If we claim the aforementioned, what are the statistics and what is the benchmark that confirmed this claim of service delivery failure?

The numbers of protests registered in claim of ‘service delivery’ are extremely high, yet they do not naturally and necessarily stand exempted from necessary scrutiny. Given these numbers, it is easy to generate from these a conviction that the country is outraged with what is deemed an unwanted ANC government. It therefore makes political sense for opposition parties to quote these protests as an exact science in prove of evidence that the ANC is under siege.

Perhaps what really is behind the Bekkersdal intimidation is not a lack of service delivery, but party political interest in destabilising the country in the up-run to an election where the very right of ballot and power will be affirmed. It cannot be easily passed off as the community; the community unfortunately has a multiplicity of description and definition in political conviction sense.

The right to protest is a democratic right but not a right in the superlative to violate other’s rights to engage in what the same democracy affords all.

I shall ask again can parties handsomely benefit in claims of rights to protest and equally be exempted from responsibility in rendering government ungovernable and denying others their equal rights when the elections is a guaranteed occurrence.

Perhaps the  real threat to our burgeoning democracy is often seen from the wrong side, when we trust those the voters never trusted as natural custodians of our democracy.

These who today strive to mislead us in believing these are ‘service delivery’ protests assume we the thinking masses of South Africa are not thinking.

Clyde N. S. Ramalaine

Independent Observer