By MANDISI MAJAVU
The Unemployed People’s Movement (UPM) recently declared that “ANC, Makhanda is woke!”
Fed up with party politics and sectarian holier-than-thou politics, the UPM has joined forces with [various organisations and individuals]*(1). The political objective is to let the corrupt political class that has been in the helm of the post-apartheid state know that enough is enough – the gravy train stops at Makhanda.
To that end, the ANC cadres who were deployed at Makana Local Municipality have been ordered by the Makhanda High Court to disembark the train. In other words, the court granted an application by the UPM that the chaotic municipality run by the ANC be dissolved. The Eastern Cape government has threatened to appeal the court ruling. This is a political “go-to move” of the ANC when apartheid style modes of political repression fail to derail post-apartheid social movements. The ANC’s record of political repression include police brutality (à la Marikana massacre), demonisation of social movements as part of a “third force”, and the deployment of agent provocateurs or paid informants to infiltrate social movements with the aim to discredit political activists.
The UPM knows this political minefield all too well. Ayanda Kota, the leader of the UPM, is battle scarred and bruised for going up against the ANC-run municipality. The UPM’s victory against the Makana Local Municipality validates the cry of other social movements across the country, that the post-apartheid emperor is not versed in ethics and democratic norms. The ANC is a shell of its former self: it lacks intellectual and moral force. What the ANC has is a bully pulpit, which it uses, among other things, to spread the false narrative that the ANC is the only agent of history in South Africa, particularly in the Eastern Cape.
The UPM’s victory against Makana Local Municipality is a political blow against a post-colonial bourgeoisie that has betrayed the revolutionary aspirations of the Black poor. Frantz Fanon warned us against Black nationalism – an ideological confection of male gendered discourse, black power politics, “identity politics”, and cultural politics. The UPM has exposed the nationalism of the ANC for what it is, “an empty shell, a crude and fragile travesty of what it might have been”.
The challenge now for the UPM and its allies is that social transformation is more complex than winning a legal case. It is not enough for the UPM to say that the successful court case is expressive of the spirit of unity that now exists between “white and black, rich and poor, conservative and radical”. The political unity achieved between black and white, and between rich and poor in this case is a significant achievement. However, despite the fact that the lives of both blacks and whites were negatively affected by the ANC run municipality, the everyday reality in Makhanda shows black and the white living in two separate worlds. That is not an academic theory, but a defining feature of daily life in Makhanda.
Makhanda still reflects what Sir Godfrey Lagden, chairman of the South African Native Affairs Commission, once characterised as “a dividing line between semi-barbarism and civilisation”. Speaking honestly, Lagden further clarified that “‘you needn’t say it is between black and white, but for the time being it means the same thing’.”
Historical legacies aside, Makana needs right now over half a billion rand to fix its sewerage network and potholed roads, according to media reports. The half a billion rand is urgently needed, among other things, to fix its broken down sewerage network and sewage treatment plants which will cost R395 million, as well as to repair potholed roads, a project which is estimated will cost R250 million. Makana also has a 10 000 unit housing backlog. The weight of history and post-apartheid corruption and incompetence have managed to transform Makhanda into a bleak, Dickensian world for both blacks and whites. This is a world that happily tolerates human suffering, and gleefully disregards human well-being.
The coalition between the UPM and [Grahamstown Residents Association]**(2) is yet to articulate its transformative vision of Makhanda. As things stand, if the Supreme Court of Appeal upholds the high court ruling, the dissolution of the Makana Local Municipality will go ahead and by-elections will have to be held within three months. I believe that the UPM is the only civic grouping that could stand and win the elections by a wide margin. If the UPM were to win the elections, the first order of business would be to set the municipality’s budget to work on upgrading the townships to a liveable condition and to repairing all the problems with the water and sewage systems.
The Business Forum and the Grahamstown Residents Association also want a functioning water and sewage system but, more importantly, they would want the town centre and the roads to be repaired first.***(3) This might eat into the municipal budget, leaving insufficient funds for the townships. If a new governing council is serious about improving the human condition in Makhanda, then it would be wise for a new council to repair the townships first. For the UPM’s legal victory to have sustainable and long-lasting effects on the people of Makhanda, a new council has to prioritise the black human experience in the town.
The UPM should avoid entering into a coalition with the Democratic Alliance (DA). The DA has historically not been in favour of any change that primarily benefits township and informal settlement residents, as DA voters are middle class and mainly white. In areas that the DA has governed for over a decade, namely Cape Town which they have governed since they won the 2006 local government elections, there has been no demonstrable improvement in the situation in the townships. Mmusi Maimane, the DA’s first black party leader, resigned last year from his leadership position, because, as far as he was concerned the DA “is not the vehicle best suited” for achieving racial justice and equality in post-apartheid South Africa. Furthermore, the DA has a bad reputation for and history of swallowing smaller parties alive when it enters into coalition arrangements.
As residents of Makhanda find themselves in a state that Karl Marx characterised as “a state of momentary barbarism”, the UPM will do well to take heed of Fanon’s clarion call: each generation of activists “must out of relative obscurity discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.”
- Dr Mandisi Madlavu is a senior lecturer in the Department of Political and International Studies at Rhodes University.
*(1) This paragraph originally named the circle of unity.
** (2) This paragraph originally named the Grahamstown Business Forum.
(1) and (2) In fact, neither is an applicant in the UPM vs The Premier and 16 others matter. Grocott’s Mail regrets the error.
Clarification and right of reply:
**(2) No formal coalition exists between the UPM and GBF, which has neither endorsed nor opposed the application brought by the UPM. What is true is that a broad coalition of individuals, organisations, and institutions are sharing ideas of which some are brought into action.
***(3) At no point has the GBF said it wants the town centre to be fixed first at the expense of the township.
– The Grahamstown Business Forum
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