Round table debates destruction of public property

MRM chairperson Father Smangaliso Mkhatshwa has called upon South Africans, particularly the angst-ridden youth, to protect public property and ensure that there is buy-in from broader society to support the protection of community facilities from vandalism and destruction.

“Young people should actually lead the struggle against the destruction of public property. Surely it is in their best interest not to inherit ruins and then be forced to approach the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to raise loans to reconstruct their own infrastructure,” said Mkhatshwa during last month’s MRM round table discussion on the destruction of property held at The Reef Hotel, Johannesburg.

“We come from a history of mass mobilisation around social issues under apartheid. Campaigns focused on challenges that were of concern to the people such as Bantu Education, the homeland system, police brutality and the dompas.

We need buy-in from the masses of our people, especially those who are affected by the rampant vandalisation of public infrastructure.”

The round table discussion formed part of the I Care We Care campaign, initiated by the department of infrastructure development, and now driven by the MRM.

The main objective of the I Care We Care campaign, launched in Bekkersdal in 2016, is to galvanise communities to protect public infrastructure.

Panelists at the roundtable included Mkhatshwa, Professor Gessler Nkondo, Reverend Coto Makaba, South Africa Police Services secretariat Benji Ntuli and Father Brian Mhlanga, among others.

The violent destruction of public property during service delivery protests is a source of grave concern to government and has to be nipped in the bud, said Jacob Mamabolo, MEC of the Gauteng department of infrastructure development.

Mamabolo said a critical and philosophical analysis, in the light of a wide array of panellists and community inputs on the subject of violent destruction of public property, was required in order to understand what drives South Africans to resort to destruction and violence.

Said Mamabolo: “To have a successful campaign we must conduct an analysis or assessment of why do people destroy public property during protests … We must probe the historical factors, and interrogate the root causes of this phenomenon in order to understand why is it that communities express themselves in a very violent way and burn clinics and schools libraries.

“We can go up and down, visit churches and talk to people and appeal to them to stop destroying public infrastructure and to protect community facilities from vandalism and litter.

However, if we do not interrogate this issue, we are going to chase shadows.”

Neo Chaka, MRM’s office manager at the national office, added that violence in South Africa has become the country’s “12th language.”

Chaka said there was an urgent to educate communities about legislation and their constitutional rights in order to stop communities from resorting to violence when they had grievances with government.

However, student and community activists attending the round table were not impressed, maintaining that communities often expressed their unhappiness and frustration with poor service delivery, lack of access to water, maladministration, and corruption through violent protests.

An angry community activist told the roundtable panel: “We were promised services such as decent housing, free education, better health infrastructure, water and sanitation. Now those things are not there.”

Another said: “How dare does President Jacob Zuma take our money and build his house in Nkandla. The money could have been used to educate our children. How dare he does that and you do nothing about it?”

Nkondo told the round table that people resorted to violence because they are socially excluded, unemployed, landless and due to university policies that exclude the poor.

“People steal your land. When you want to repossess it, they charge you with theft. Those who possessed the land are now being accused of theft of the land and land invasions. As scholars we need to expose the real fundamental sources of violence among our people,” he said.

Charles Molele
Guest Author

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