August 27-28, 2014
Municipal employees who face sporadic paydays, black and white residents who still don’t have running water and township folks who are fed up with the failure to deliver on a 20-year-old promise of housing converged on City Hall at noon in Grahamstown in protest of shoddy government practices on all those fronts.
Police from the” big city” of East London with armored surveillance vehicles and as well as Grahamstown police in riot shields greeted some 500-1,000 protesters in front of the municipal offices. About a half-dozen protesters and their leaders addressed the crowd on the issues and the need for a united voice against government inaction or incompetence.
Then the mayor came out amid some of the chanting from the Xhosa-speaking part of the crowd and started dancing with the chanting. Not sure current Boston Mayor Marty Walsh or his predecessor Tommy Menino would have done that, especially since the chants involved a call for his head on a platter. Then more speakers called for the mayor to be fired and that the municipal council and mayor forward a call to province-wide government to take over Makana municipal management.
All this comes three days after a major article in the Sunday Times outlining the three years’ worth of the Makana municipal government’s financial problems to pay its workers and pay its contractors for infrastructure work. So the failure to deal with the water outage seems to fall into the long list of things going wrong and things not getting addressed. Some call it corruption while other believe it is just incompetence in terms of the management skills to make things happen. But that combination illustrates the struggle across the country to deliver services to the public.
When the mayor finally DID address the crowd, he opened his remarks with noting how Nelson Mandela’s vision of a Rainbow Coalition became a reality today on the front steps of the Makana Municipality offices. Even I had to hoot at that. Really?!? It’s great that your municipal operations are so bad that it has brought about unity between blacks and white who all think you should be run out of town? THAT’s the message you’re taking away from all this? Whoa. That’s what I call tone deaf.
The mayor did say the no-confidence call would be forwarded to the Eastern Cape provincial council for review and action. He said he read the signs being held by protesters that called for transparency and heard that message. But no mention of municipal workers not getting paid, no mention of the water outage and efforts to resolve it, but lots of mention about how houses have been built.
And yes, these different issues did bring out a wide spectrum of Grahamstown folk from East and West, black and white, student and well-to-do, poor and just-getting-by. But I would say not quite the Nelson Mandela dream I suspect Madiba had in mind in thinking of a “rainbow coalition.” Still, an interesting taste of South African democracy and politics.
P.S. On THURSDAY morning, I had running water from my tap. The pressure was not the best (took about 20 minutes to fill up my washer for a load of clothes I HAD to get washed) BUT I had water. But it was fleeting. By the time I was back home Thursday evening, the taps ran dry. No water Friday or Saturday. But on Sunday, I returned home to running water and so the crisis has passed.