Why our youth are protest­ing

If we fo­cus on mak­ing sure that ser­vices are de­liv­ered – that chil­dren can learn with the lights on – this small thing will make all the dif­fer­ence, writes

The Star Early Edition - - INSIDE -

UR YOUTH are suf­fer­ing. Bar­ing the brunt of ser­vice de­liv­ery is­sues – lack of wa­ter, in­con­sis­tent elec­tric­ity and san­i­ta­tion, a flawed pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem and lack of hous­ing.

Cov­er­ing hun­dreds of ser­vice de­liv­ery protests has ex­posed me to the real­ity that de­spite South Africa’s democ­racy and bril­liant con­sti­tu­tion, hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple still live un­der dire con­di­tions in both ru­ral and ur­ban ar­eas.

For much of South Africa’s youth, these is­sues have a knock-on ef­fect even when it comes to some­thing as sim­ple as do­ing home­work af­ter school hours.

Dur­ing a protest in Vlak­fontein, most of the pro­test­ers tak­ing part were of school-go­ing age.

“If we don’t have elec­tric­ity, es­pe­cially dur­ing win­ter, we can’t stay warm and it af­fects ev­ery­thing,” said Grade 10 pupil Thabo Nkosi.

“We can’t study for tests or do our work and even­tu­ally it starts af­fect­ing our marks be­cause we fall be­hind,” he said.

A group of ma­tric stu­dents crowded around us and ex­plained the se­ri­ous­ness of the sit­u­a­tion and how they suf­fer when the lights go out.

“We can’t study, we can’t do our home­work, we can’t bath and we can’t stay warm with no elec­tric­ity.

“It’s all wrong, this is our future and it’s fall­ing to pieces,” said a pupil who only iden­ti­fied him­self as Joseph.

Zama Ndlovu, 21, said her sis­ter who was writ­ing ma­tric tests suf­fered from arthri­tis and the cold weather af­fected her bones badly.

“She is in con­stant pain and be­cause there is no elec­tric­ity she can’t stay warm with a heater or hot wa­ter bot­tle.

“She can’t even walk to school; my mom has to waste money to get a taxi for her,” she added.

Later in the day, we watched as they joined in set­ting tyres alight, pulling a stop sign out of the ground and help­ing older mem­bers of the com­mu­nity block the road.

When asked about why they had fi­nally de­cided to join in, sev­eral pupils said: “Our par­ents are fight­ing for a bet­ter future for us, we need to join them if we’re go­ing to make things bet­ter.”

How­ever, on the other side of the spec­trum, I was stopped by some school pupils who ex­pressed their con­cerns about be­ing un­able to get to school be­cause of the protest.

“If they block the roads, we can’t get to school be­cause our trans­port can’t get in and out.

“I un­der­stand the prob­lems and I’m af­fected too, but this is our future – what I learn in school to­day or to­mor­row could come up in my fi­nal ex­ams and if I don’t learn it, I fail and I won’t be able to get to univer­sity.

“I want to get to school – even if it means study­ing in the dark or by can­dle­light and be­ing cold, I don’t want to mess up my future,” said Grade 11 pupil Lebo.

These sen­ti­ments were echoed just a few weeks ago dur­ing a hous­ing protest in En­nerdale, when many pupils were forced to miss three to four days of school.

Last year, fol­low­ing a shack fire in Man­go­lon­golo, which de­stroyed the en­tire in­for­mal set­tle­ment, sev­eral pri­mary school-aged chil­dren said they had lost all their school books in the blaze.

They told me that their par­ents could not af­ford to re­place them and were un­sure what they would do un­til the end of the year.

Many res­i­dents said that if the area had proper wa­ter fa­cil­i­ties and elec­tric­ity had been in­stalled as con­tin­u­ally promised, the fire could have have been avoided.

“If it wasn’t avoided then it would have been easy to put out if we had proper run­ning wa­ter – ev­ery house could have filled up their buck­ets,” said Love­joy Sha­bangu.

In a bril­liant ar­ti­cle by Kevin Al­lan, Mu­nic­i­pal IQ’s man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, and Karen Heese, Mu­nic­i­pal IQ’s econ­o­mist,

Othey looked at the rea­son­ing be­hind protests which are “gen­er­ally, poorly un­der­stood”.

Al­lan and Heese ex­plained that “the rapid growth of in­for­mal set­tle­ments as well as met­ros’ un­will­ing­ness (un­til re­cently) to ac­cept them as a per­ma­nent real­ity in their midst, has meant a slow re­sponse to the ser­vice de­liv­ery needs of com­mu­ni­ties in these ar­eas”.

“In these cases, a large part of the prob­lem spark­ing protests has been very poor com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween rep­re­sen­ta­tives of met­ros and com­mu­ni­ties, es­sen­tially the task of ward coun­cil­lors and lo­cal of­fi­cials,” they said.

“The rea­son for this is partly prag­matic – in­for­mal set­tle­ments con­tain nei­ther the num­ber of reg­is­tered vot­ers nor the lo­cal branch lob­by­ing strength of more for­malised ar­eas, but also be­cause the flu­id­ity of in­for­mal set­tle­ments is such that they do not nec­es­sar­ily present them­selves as or­gan­ised com­mu­ni­ties with rep­re­sen­ta­tive lead­ers.

“In truth, in­clud­ing com­mu­ni­ties from in­for­mal set­tle­ments in lo­cal gov­er­nance and plan­ning pro­cesses re­quires far more work than in other more for­mal ar­eas of met­ros.

“An as­sess­ment of ser­vice de­liv­ery protests in met­ros makes clear how a lack of ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion of­ten leads to the rapid spread of ru­mours of favouritism, cor­rup­tion, and mis­man­age­ment – some­times true, but of­ten un­true.

“Added to this, the need for ser­vices in these ar­eas is not only greater than any other area of a metro but in­deed in most cases ab­so­lutely des­per­ate,” Al­lan and Heese em­pha­sised.

As a Jewish white girl who grew up in a shel­tered en­vi­ron­ment, I didn’t re­alise how dire the sit­u­a­tion was un­til I at­tended univer­sity and made friends with peo­ple who had come from in­for­mal set­tle­ments and ex­pressed their ex­cite­ment at be­ing able to study in a li­brary that had lights.

Em­bar­rass­ingly, dur­ing my high school years, as load shed­ding be­came more and more fre­quent, I would com­plain about the fact that I couldn’t do my home­work, watch TV or heat sup­per in the mi­crowave.

De­spite liv­ing par­al­lel to the poverty, it never re­ally oc­curred to me that so many peo­ple my age were faced with such dire cir­cum­stances.

Hav­ing warm wa­ter, lights, proper ablu­tion fa­cil­i­ties and a roof over my head were things I took for granted for years – to­day, that’s not the case.

While I don’t agree with the cy­cle of vi­o­lence that oc­curs all too of­ten dur­ing ser­vice de­liv­ery protests, I deeply em­pathise with the com­mu­ni­ties and their con­cerns, es­pe­cially the youth, who bare the brunt of the sit­u­a­tion.

What’s even more con­cern­ing is that ser­vice de­liv­ery protests have to be­come vi­o­lent be­fore res­i­dents are heard – this is some­thing I wit­nessed re­cently fol­low­ing vi­o­lent hous­ing protests in El­do­rado Park, Fine­town and En­nerdale.

Only once af­ter it had been on the news for days were res­i­dents and lead­ers ad­dressed by gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials.

What South Africans are fight­ing for are ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties that all peo­ple in a demo­cratic coun­try like ours have rights to.

When young chil­dren tell you that it’s un­fair to live like this and that their fu­tures are at stake, we as South Africans need to hear the call and we too should be deeply con­cerned about it.

We shouldn’t be turn­ing a blind eye or pre­tend­ing that it’s not hap­pen­ing, be­cause at the end of the day, our youth is the most pre­cious as­set who will take our coun­try for­ward in the next few years.

An un­e­d­u­cated young pop­u­la­tion will lead our coun­try into dis­ar­ray and an­ar­chy, drug and crime rates will con­tinue to rocket as we are see­ing now.

How­ever, if we fo­cus on mak­ing sure that ser­vice is de­liv­ered – that chil­dren can learn with the lights on – this small thing that we all take for granted could make all the dif­fer­ence.

It’s time that gov­ern­ment starts prac­tis­ing what it preaches in our con­sti­tu­tion. In­stead of lin­ing their pock­ets with cash, our in­for­mal set­tle­ments and town­ships must be their pri­mary fo­cus.

Be­ing a jour­nal­ist, vis­it­ing peo­ple’s homes and see­ing the har­row­ing con­di­tions in which they live has opened my eyes to the dif­fi­cult strug­gles that this coun­try still faces.

Strug­gles that we could face for many more years to come if gov­ern­ment con­tin­ues down its greedy and un­car­ing path.

At the end of the day, the future of our youth is in our hands – we can ei­ther be proac­tive and do our bit to pres­sure gov­ern­ment into do­ing its job, or con­tinue to turn a blind eye and watch as our future gen­er­a­tions crum­ble be­neath the deso­la­tion of poverty. @Lanc_02

FIERY FRUS­TRA­TION: A young pro­tester swings a tyre in Ou Kaapse Weg in Grabouw, Cape Town, dur­ing ser­vice de­liv­ery protests.

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