From party politics to service delivery to the politics of the poor

From party politics to service delivery to the politics of the poor

Philani Zungu's article arguing against the lip-service of politicians of 'service delivery' to South Africa's poor.

I hope that one day it will be realised by our government officials how much betrayal they have served to the floors on which they stand and where they belong. It is very sad that our politicians forget that their power started with people like us, people like the red shirts. Their silk suits come from older struggles, from other people struggling then like we do now, in the yellow shirts of the UDF and the unions.

When they were coming into power they told us that the only colour that mattered was the colour of the skin. But the black men in silk suits do not work for us. They work for the rich – black and white. They say that they are working to give us service delivery. They are really working to deliver us to the rich – to smash our informal shacks and either leave us homeless or dump us in formal jondolos in the bush. It is the colour of the heart that matters. In our struggle we have learnt that people of different skin colours have red hearts. It is the colour of the heart that matters.

Freedom is the equalisation of all people. All people need the same respect and all people need what is necessary for a proper life – some land, a house, water, electricity, access to good education and doctors, police and courts that work for the people, the chance for proper work and support for the young, the old and the sick.

It is very sad that the people we trusted the most, the people we gave a mandate to secure our freedom, seem not to understand what is freedom. They understood quite well in the struggle but now they no longer understand. It is quite that the struggle is not over. We cannot just wait for service delivery. We are in a second phase of struggle. Older struggles put our people in the silk suits. Now our struggle, the second phase of struggle, has to force the men in silk suits to work for the poor and not the rich.

In the first struggle, when there was no freedom at all, people did not accept to be silent victims. People did not compromise. They were brave enough to put their lives at risk. Many people had so much faith that they gave up their lives to invest them in the new generation that would live in a free country.

Now that we have some freedoms in law but no full freedom in reality, now that there is no better life for all, now that the government leaves shack dwellers to burn in the fires, beats us when we march and smashes up our homes and either leaves us homeless or dumps in formal jondolos in the bush why should we be silent? Why does the Municipality of eThekwini expect Abahlali baseMjondolo to remain silent? Why are we expected to have unlimited patience while we are being attacked because ‘service delivery is coming’? Why are Abahlali baseMjondolo victimised when we claim back our humanity and the rights that we are promised with our citizenship? Why are we not allowed to work with academics at the university? Why are academics at the university not allowed to work with the poor?

The answer is clear. This democracy is not for us. We must stay silent so that this truth can be kept hidden. This democracy is for the rich who will build and then enjoy themselves at uShaka, King Senzagakhona Stadium and King Shaka Airport. We will only go to these places to protect and clean up for the rich.

Today Fazel Khan, a sociologist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), is facing charges for speaking to the media. But it is very clear to Abahlali baseMjondolo that the intention behind these charges is to get rid of Fazel from the university. He must go because he has broken the rules. With other academics, academics who are already gone from the University, he has spoken to the poor instead of for the poor. He has worked with the poor instead of with the rich in the name of the poor. Abahlali already know what the outcome of Fazel’s case will be. His dismissal is the main objective of the university bosses right now.

For a long time we have heard rumours from various people that eThekwini City Manager, Mike Sutcliffe, has been boasting that he has instructed the university to get rid of Fazel Khan and Richard Pithouse. Last year the Mercury reported that the University Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Makgoba, had told Fazel that Mayor Obed Mlaba had instructed him to ‘act against academics working with Abahlali.’ It seems that this is now being accomplished with the charges against Fazel.

The people in power are fighting against the poor instead of serving the poor. Because the poor still exist in unfreedom it is clear that people in power are fighting against freedom.

Philani Zungu served three terms as the deputy chair of Abahlali baseMjondolo and is currently the chairperson of the Pemary Ridge settlement. He has been arrested three times and on one occasion was subject to video taped torture in the Sydenham Police station. He is currently out on bail on a charge of illegally connecting electricity. He wrote this article in November 2006 when the last of the local academics associated with Abahlali baseMjondolo, Fazel Khan, was being hounded out of the University. In each case there was direct and active complicity from the resident representatives of the authoritarian edge of the white North American academic left.

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Mar 30 2008 10:42


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