Sensible community action can achieve much

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Read Paddy Hartdegen’s thoughts on this matter.

Community action is so much more productive and sensible than the violent and angry protests that tend to dominate any service delivery issues in South Africa.  These violent outbreaks are characterised by looting, hooliganism, damage to property, loss of life and even the destruction of entire trains, trucks or buses.

So I was pleased to read that residents in Orange Farm, who were sick to death of not having their rubbish removed and being fobbed off with excuses such as the “trucks are broken”, that a group of them got together and tackled the problem sensibly and peacefully.

What they did was bundle up all the rubbish that had not been removed in the past month and load it onto wheelbarrows.  Then they took it to Lindelwa June Nhose’s house because she is the ward councillor for the region.

And they dumped it outside her property.

Nothing violent about that, no savage screaming, ululating or dancing.  They quietly went about their business:  they removed the rubbish and made their problem her problem – as it should have been in the first place.

Of course there was nothing much wrong with Pikitup’s trucks as it turns out:  the rubbish was dumped over the weekend and by the Tuesday morning it had been removed by the very trucks that were supposed to be “broken”.

The residents had consistently been complaining to their ward councillor because the rubbish had not been collected since December and there was no likelihood that it ever would be either.

Protest organiser, Pule Semahla, had even spoken to Pikitup’s regional manager on numerous occasions and still nothing had been done.  He even went to the utility’s head office and was told then that the office was “not aware of any problems in Orange Farm”.

The councillor was apparently unwilling to listen to them when they consistently complained to her and she refused to do anything about the rubbish removal.

And that’s when they decided to dump their refuse in front of her house.

This approach seems eminently more sensible than going on a rampage through the suburbs, burning houses, attacking cars, damaging property and even burning down a councillor’s house as has happened before.  And it seems to achieve so much more too because, if nothing else, there is an investigation underway to resolve why the matter was not sorted out earlier.

Hopefully it will have some repercussions for the councillor who obviously doesn’t need to be kept on in her position at all.  We like to think that by voting out a councillor, change may occur but of course with elections taking place infrequently, you can’t let these unresolved rubbish mount up until it’s election time again.

I think the residents of Orange Farm have done a number of things correctly:

  • They’ve protested;
  • They’ve made their point;
  • They’ve got rid of the offensive health hazard of uncollected rubbish;
  • And they’ve drawn attention to the lack of service delivery.

For me, that works.  And I do wish that so many other groups would take a similar course. There was another example of this recently when the Congress of South African Trade Unions organised a mass protest over e-tolls and had a peaceful mass rally along the highway between Johannesburg and Pretoria.

On that occasion there was no violence, no property damage, no injuries – even though the traffic disruption was a serious inconvenience.  But Cosatu made its point.

Compared this protest with the madness of Marikana, or the chaos and destruction of the agriculture strikes in the Western Cape.  There simply no comparison:  one works, the other doesn’t.

There is plenty of scope for peaceful protests in South Africa and that’s where we need to see law enforcement agencies stepping in to control these events. Eskom workers at Medupi go on strike and violence is suddenly surrounds the entire region; Miners go on strike, at Carletonville and workers lose their lives; I can provide a list that’s as long as the road from here to Marikana if I set my mind to it.

And what have these protests achieved?  Nothing at all.

Whereas the protest in Orange Farm resolved the issues immediately: no more rubbish lying around, an investigation into the responsible councillor, trucks working through their route each week and the community being able to live more healthy lives.

That’s what protest action should be about.

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Crown Publications, one of South Africa’s largest business-to-business publishing houses, came into existence in 1986. Since then, the company has grown from producing a single magazine, Electricity SA (renamed Electricity+Control), to publishing six monthly magazines, three quarterlies, and a number of engineering handbooks.