The debate took place at the Masonic Hall in Hill Street and was organised by Masifunde Education & Development Project Trust, a community based organisation along with Rural People’s Movement (RPM) and the Unemployed People’s Movement (UPM).
The opening remarks were delivered by Dr Pedro Tabensky of the Philosophy Department at Rhodes University as he made an analysis of the service delivery protests today and how similar it is to the downfall of apartheid.
His views were heavily set on the thoughts of Stephen Biko, the anti-apartheid activist. Citing Biko's statement from an interview in 1972, Tabensky said that Biko claimed that the downfall of apartheid will be caused by the fact that black people can actually think. Tabensky said this thought allowed the formation of townships for people to come together and mobilise against the apartheid regime. He said this was similiar to the case in Tunisia where there were recently mass demonstrations and strikes aimed at removing the government.
He said after 1994 people stopped mobilising giving way for the new government to use their first grip on power to do what it wanted. The discontent gave rise to social uprisings and movements like the Rural People's movement. "The current ruling party is starting to feel that the land that they stand on is not as firm as they would like," Tabensky said.
Tabensky spoke about an article that the Sunday Times published on Sunday [15 May] which quoted President Jacob Zuma when he found out how an ANC-run Moqhaka municipality in the Free State built 1600 open toilets for the poor. The article read that after campaigning in the Eastern Cape on Friday, Zuma said he was heartbroken and "now understands" why communities protest. Tabensky wondered how he could not have known there are problems like this. "What country does he live in?"
"This sort of lie is expressing a fear that grass roots movements are actually building up and growing." He also wondered how people could build these open toilets saying that it shows there is no love for humanity. "I have little evidence that the ruling party actually cares for people."
Offering encouragement to the social movements present, Tabensky said that it was important for the oppressed to liberate themselves. He said these structures need to remain in place even after things get better.
At the debate the political parties present, Congress of People and Azanian People's Movement performed some campaigning and encouraged the public to vote and to use their vote the "right way". The theme of the debate was '17 Years of Democracy in South Africa and the struggles of the poor for equality, justice, dignity and humanity'. The debate had an aim to be a tool for social mobilisation and change as well as to raise awareness of socio-economic and political rights in order to make informed choices in May 18 local government elections.