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More than a week after violent service delivery protests erupted in his informal settlement, Phumlani Menze is still furious. Life has not improved.
“Look how we live,” the 27-year-old says as he points to the festering river of sewage that runs outside his shack and serves as a drain in Zandspruit, west of Joburg. “Even pigs do not live like this. It’s disgusting. This is why we protest.”
Last week, Menze joined hundreds of his neighbours blocking Beyers Naudé Drive and hurling stones at passing motorists to demand basic services. As night fell, the protests turned violent.
“See, we have one tap for many of us, and it’s right next to this sewage,” says Menze, as other putrid drains stagnate with sewage and dead rodents. “When I need the toilet, I must go to the bushes.”
“Swing a cat sideways in Zandspruit and you will hit all the service delivery problems that there are,” says Linus Muller, the DA’s proportional representation councillor for Zandspruit. “You (wouldn’t) have this frequency of service delivery protests if everything (was) all right.”
But the shame and anger, particularly over poor water services and sanitation, extends further than Zandspruit, according to a new report by the Water Research Commission.
Its researchers visited service delivery protest hotspots from Sannieshof in the North West to Khayelitsha in the Western Cape to understand the dynamics between water scarcity and social protests.
They found residents in Sannieshof who had complained about contaminated water since 2007 and had little to drink, while in Pelindaba, outside Hartbeespoort, three taps served 600 households.
In Khayelitsha 70 percent of households were forced to use communal taps or standpipes for their water supply and had inadequate or no access to sanitation. “The type of house – informal settlements and formal housing – is a good proxy for the level of service delivery,” says the report.
Citizens blame the government for non-delivery but officials respond by disengaging or shifting blame, “leading to increased frustration among citizens who have felt even more out of touch with the government”.
The result is a self-reinforcing cycle that leads to poorer delivery.
“It has led to a disregard for the law, and in some cases violent protests by people rebelling against a system they don’t feel respects them,” says the report.
In Zandspruit, protests started when residents heard the ANC’s centenary torch would be heading down Beyers Naudé Drive with President Jacob Zuma in tow. As tempers flared, shops were looted in what Local Housing MEC Humphrey Mmemezi branded acts of “hooliganism”.
But Peter Malla, who led last week’s protest, warns the next protest will be uglier. “Nobody is going to stop us. It will be worse. We will burn down the petrol station.
“It’s more than 20 years that people are living here with no toilets. Zuma has never been here. When you (the government) talk about service delivery in Zandspruit, it’s not about building a bridge, paving roads, or building the taxi rank.
“I cannot sleep in the rank. The bridge does not feed our people. We need houses, toilets and clean water. How many people die here from fires and disease?”
Lesaya Majola was one of the first to move to Zandspruit almost 20 years ago. She does not mind walking to the communal tap to collect water, but at 71, her body is growing old. “It’s not good here, but where else can I go?” she asks.
“I don’t agree with the protests. It’s not good to go around breaking (down) shops. The best way is to fix your problems.” -Saturday Star