Coloured townships explode

by Weizmann Hamilton, Eldorado Park WASP

On 08 May, 2017, simmering resentment at increasingly unbearable social conditions exploded into burning anger in the biggest service delivery protests in Eldorado Park, Gauteng’s largest coloured township, to the south of Johannesburg, since the end of apartheid. Although the looting and violent destruction of property that followed for two days thereafter threatened to overshadow the legitimate grievances that fueled the protests, the overwhelming majority of residents supported them and opposed these actions.

Since then protests have spread across other Gauteng coloured townships including Ennerdale, Lawley, in the south, Westbury and Newclare in the north, Eden Park in the east and Toekomsrus in the west. The social conditions such as those in Eldorado Park – the lack of housing and overcrowding, crime, drugs, domestic violence, abuse of women and children, joblessness and poverty – are common to all of them.

The explosion in coloured townships has attracted attention not so much because service delivery protests are a new phenomenon. Such protests have been taking place in black African townships since 2004. They continue with increasing frequency today – one every second day according to Municipal IQ – with greater intensity and political determination as shown by the uncompromising defiance of Vuwani, Limpopo residents over municipal demarcation. Protests in coloured townships have been met with violent repression as in black African townships which have claimed the lives of several protestors across the country most notoriously teenager Teboho Mkhonza in Intabazwe in north eastern Free State in 2004 and Andries Tatane in Ficksburg in the same province five years later, shot at point blank range by police.

The significance of the coloured township protests lies in the fact that they signal the entry of a section of working class communities for the first time into what at times has acquired the characteristics of a low intensity civil war between the ANC government and working class residents across the country.

In the same way, the #FeesMustFall 2015/16 protests were not the first such actions. Protests against financial and academic exclusion, unaffordable accommodation and for free education had been occurring with such regularity at historically black universities (HBU) and the new predominantly black working class tertiary education institutions that they had virtually become part of the academic calendar. What distinguished the #FeesMustFall protests was their location in historically white universities. The waves of the sea of social deprivation against which HBU students had been swimming for years were now sweeping over the walls of their HWU counterparts.

The difference is that the gap between HBUs and HWUs is far greater than the comparative social conditions of the coloured and African working class. According to all social indices on poverty, unemployment etc., the coloured working class follows their black African counterparts a close second.

Having been made the false promise by the apartheid regime that their status as ‘yard slaves’ was the gateway to a better future on a par with whites, the coloured working class’ experience of democracy and black majority rule seems like a renewed form of discrimination and marginalization with the false promises of government of equality and prosperity for all dashed.

The Mail &Guardian (26/07/2016) reports that “Back in the day, the 47-year-old Hillbrow Flats – the first to be built in Extension 8 in Eldorado Park – were the envy of all. The building was fenced with steel palisades. The colourful walls were attractive and kept freshly painted. The green grass was manicured, trees were planted strategically to create a tranquil environment for residents and everyone looked forward to their brighter future.”

“Today, multiple generations of the same family live in overcrowded Eldorado Park homes and others squat in backyards. Residents say there has been little visible development in the area, even though there is plenty of vacant land.”

“Unemployed mother of three Wendeline Manuel (30) attests to the harsh realities of an uncertain future. “I don’t work and we are living in my mother’s two-bedroom flat. We are 18 people living in this house and my mother is the sole breadwinner.” ”

In public sector employment practice in particular, the ANC government has inverted the apartheid pyramid of apartheid racial discrimination. The Employment Equity Act, for example, was enacted with the promise of breaking down institutional racism to ensure equal employment opportunities for all. However, the ANC government has ignored the Black Consciousness Movement definition of “black” in the legislation as encompassing African, Indian and coloured. A common anecdote is that coloureds who fill in “black” in job application forms are told they are not “black black” in interviews.

Whereas the BCM consciously adopted the definition to resist the apartheid regime’s divide-and-rule policy by pointing out that we were all slaves who must unite against our common enemy, the apartheid slave masters, in government in particular, coloured and Indian job applicants are in effect being told that they were privileged under apartheid and must take their place in the jobs and promotion queue accordingly.

The retention, intact, of racial ownership patterns in the commanding heights of the economy – the banks, the mines, factories and big commercial farms – have been replicated in unchanged residential settlement patterns leaving townships and suburbs with the same racial colouration inherited from spatial planning under apartheid more than two decades since its end. Unsurprisingly there is a widespread feeling amongst coloureds that whereas under white minority rule they were not white enough, under black majority rule they are not black enough. Separated from their black African working class brothers and sisters against the background of the emergence of a sizeable black middle class, this feeling amongst sections of coloureds that the ANC government cares only for black Africans, has been reinforced.

As a captive in of the Tripartite Alliance, Cosatu has subordinated its duty to defend the principle of non-racial working class unity to the ANC’s dictates. Thus a principle so vital in uniting the working class across racial lines in their common struggle against the apartheid regime, in the defeat of which Cosatu was the decisive force, has been sacrificed.

The entry of the coloured working class into the service delivery struggle must be welcomed. However it is vital that coloured communities join forces with their black African brothers and sisters in the more than decade long service delivery struggle. Poor service delivery is not a coloured, Indian or African problem. It is a problem for the working class as a whole. We have all been marginalised by a neo-liberal capitalist ANC government serving the interests of the elite of all races. The fastest growing gap in the distribution of wealth is within the coloured, African and Indian communities between the elite and the working classes.

The Eldorado Park protest was preceded by joint action between the residents of adjoining Pimville and Kliptown. Freedom Park residents protested at the same time as Eldorado Park. All the coloured township protests occurred against the background of the ongoing wave of protests in black African townships across the country.

Equally vital is the need for Eldorado Park and other township residents to unite their communities on a democratic basis. Eldorado Park residents have already taken an important step forward in forging both the unity of the township itself by electing representative in each extension on an interim committee to prepare for a mass meeting of Eldorado Park and surrounding townships on 28 May 2017. This meeting will elect a representative body, develop a common platform of demands and programme of action.

At the same time a number of communities from the whole of the south of Johannesburg have agreed to join forces on a similar basis. These protests come against the background of a political crisis in the main political parties representing the rich – especially the ANC and DA. The coloured working class has suffered the same decline in service delivery, corruption and deterioration in social conditions under DA rule as their black African working class under ANC rule. The outcome of the 2016 local government elections represented not only a resounding rejection of the ANC by the black African working class, but also of the DA by their coloured brothers and sisters. The DA is in power in Johannesburg and Tshwane only because the EFF wishes to be part of a pro-capitalist coalition after 2019.

This will simply mean a different combination of the same corrupt capitalist parties who will continue exploiting and marginalize the working class. It is time we as the working class take our destiny into our own hands and join forces with the new federation, Saftu and students to form a mass workers party on a socialist programme.


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