/ 31 July 2009

‘Just ordinary individuals’

Signs of spontaneous community self-organisation have emerged on Gauteng’s volatile East Rand as service delivery anger continues to boil.

Residents in Tembisa recently formed the Duduza Tswelopele Service Delivery Forum to negotiate service improvements. The forum’s treasurer, Lokwe Sebake, told the Mail & Guardian that the organisation is ‘non-political”.

He said that during a public meeting on April 15 members of the area’s mayoral committee asked that residents of Duduza and Tswelopele informal settlements form a negotiating committee rather than march to the department of housing to demand permanent stands on which to construct accommodation.

Three days later residents formed the forum and attempted to engage mayor Ntombi Mekgwe’s office to discuss their complaints. When no improvements had materialised by July, more than 3 000 community members marched to Mekgwe’s office with their memorandum of demands.

‘Before this we were just ordinary individuals who wanted service delivery,” said Sebake.

The residents want their ward councillor, Zodwa Mafanga, removed. They allege that, despite being approached by the community in November, she has failed to act on their service demands.

Residents said Mafanga and what they called the ‘life-time members” who comprised the former community representative forum — which the new committee has replaced — entered into secret deals regarding the allocation of RDP houses.

Sarah Magota (33) is unemployed and lives in Duduza. She is waiting for an RDP house and said: ‘I want a house and work. It isn’t nice living here. We are just here because we are struggling.”

Although the Duduza forum says it is non-political, there was outrage among community members when Mafanga held a braai at a local primary school to celebrate former president Nelson Mandela’s birthday the day after the memo was delivered.

‘We had written in the memorandum that we want her removed from her office and she was there,” said Sebake.

Violence broke out between the police and residents who went to the school to confront Mafanga. One resident said she saw angry protesters throwing stones at the police at the school. ‘I ran away after that, so I don’t know what happened then.”

Duduza community members said that police fired live ammunition while Mafanga was being removed from the scene. The confrontation left two community members dead.

The M&G could not obtain confirmation from the local Ivory Park police station of the kind of ammunition used. Mafanga referred the M&G to the mayor’s office on this incident and on residents’ broader complaints.

Mekgwe’s representative, Prince Hamnca, declined to comment on the braai incident on the grounds that he was not there, but confirmed that the mayor had received the memorandum.

Following the braai violence, ‘two men were arrested because they were thought to be the ringleaders” and were charged with public violence, Constable Nelda Hlase of Ivory Park said.

Tshilidzi Munyai, the ANC secretary in Tembisa, said: ‘It is very unfortunate that there has been a loss of lives.” He said the party was aware of the issues raised by the community and was committed to solving the issues.

“The ANC is about serving the people,” he said.

‘We are going to see more mobilisation in communities,” said Susan Booysen, a professor of politics at the University of the Witwatersrand. ‘They are organising on substantive issues that need to be corrected. It is political, it should be political, and the government needs to address it as political.”

Political analyst Steven Friedman said he wouldn’t be surprised if protests were organised. ‘There does seem to be this assumption that if a protest is organised then it’s illegitimate, [but] it’s absolutely part of what democratic society is about.”

  • Additional reporting by Ilham Rawoot