Service delivery struggles unite and coordinate

Written by Trevor Shaku and featured in our uManyano lwaBasebenzi publication

On 14 January 2020, nine members of Ikgomotseng community appeared before Brandfort magistrate court on charges of public violence related to  a September 2019 service delivery protest. Due to the backlog in social services, unemployment and grinding poverty, the community of Ikgomotseng, just outside of Bloemfontein, embarked on a protest to demand jobs and service delivery.

From a chaotic runaround with police, WASP cadres re-orientated the protest and rallied the entire community behind the struggle, based on a clear fighting strategy.

Just as revolutions are not chaotic riots but disciplined and organised struggles to wrestle power from the ruling elite, Marxists use interventions in day-to-day mass struggles to instill revolutionary organisation and discipline. This creates new traditions for working class actions, and also acts as education and preparation for the ultimate struggle for socialism. Revolutionary programme and discipline are vital to make our struggles sustainable.

The community submitted a 14-point memorandum with demands such as: the allocation of residential sites, state (RDP) housing for the existing shack dwellers, completion and opening of community hall and library, fencing of the landfill and sewage, eradication of the bucket system and unemployment.

These demands are similar to those of thousands of community protests that have engulfed the political landscape for years.

The backlog in service delivery is not only created by rife corruption, but by the structure of the political economy itself. Public funds serve to make the system just about work for the capitalist ruling class but do not match the needs of the vast majority. Raising funds through tax collection has severe limits in an economic system built on exploitation of workers, with mass unemployment and poverty wages as key pillars – especially in the era of neoliberalism where governments have bowed to big business by cutting corporate taxes. Municipalities are largely funded by electricity and water tariffs, fundamentally a tax on the poor. Many state-owned enterprises are bankrupt and rely on state bail-outs.

This leaves the state with little in its coffers to deliver basic services like those required in Ikgomotseng. Its interest in doing so only awakes when it fears that the pillars of the system may be shaken. But the resources are there – in the pockets of the super-rich.

The 6 303 people in Ikgomotseng make up 0.8% of Mangaung’s 787 930 population, out of whom 3 415 are neither ”economically active”, nor in any form of education. This includes pensioners but many are youth, ‘Not in any form of Education, Employment and Training’ (NEET). Less than 10% of those who matriculate in Ikgomotseng make it to higher education.

The high number of NEET youth in the community is not surprising – Ikgomotseng is a microcosm of the nation which has 10 million ”NEETs”.

The ANC government has no solutions for the crisis that has resulted in the high unemployment rate, widening levels of inequality and grinding poverty for the majority. Not because it has leaders who cannot think, but because of the structural makeup of capitalism – a system they have fought to preserve since coming into power in 1994.

Since government cannot voluntarily solve this backlog on service delivery – if anything, they have been privatising provision of these essential services to corporates – what will?

When we organise and fight, communities can force through change, but to go beyond rage to concrete gains, coordination is needed. There were on average four protests a week in 2018. Communities are up in arms fighting for service delivery, but their struggles are isolated from one another and from the crucial force of organised workers. This has weakened their ability to make concrete gains despite the high levels of fierceness and determination.

WASP calls on the Ikgomotseng community to ally with other communities within Mangaung Metro, appealing for trade union solidarity in action, in order to launch a coordinated and powerful movement to fight for service delivery and jobs.