A protest in Ennerdale in southern Johannesburg, where residents blockaded all entrances and exits with rocks and burning tyres due to lack of services in the area. File picture: Matthews Baloyi

The coloured and African working class needs a party of its own, writes Ebrahim Harvey.

There has been much media exposure of the recent protests in coloured working-class townships in Joburg, notably Eldorado Park and Ennerdale, which have been characterised by much vehemence and violence and which requires explanation.

The main reason these angry protests have received so much media attention is precisely because we have not had much of it from these areas for many years. On the other hand, African townships have been seething with unstoppable violent protests since June 2004.

What they all have in common, however, is the social degradation so rife in most black townships in post-apartheid South Africa, when the majority black working class expected a much better life and especially standard of living.

Instead, gruelling poverty, joblessness, homelessness and squalor has been their lot, the very conditions that have been subterranean tinder for the avalanche of social explosions we have seen in African townships.

The coloured working class in Eldorado Park, Ennerdale, Lawley, Waverly, Reiger Park and elsewhere has now joined that combustible protest movement.

Bear in mind that there are many other terribly neglected coloured working-class townships that were not hit by these protests, but where living conditions are probably worse than that in Eldorado Park and Ennerdale, places like Western, Westbury and Newclare, which have high levels of poverty, joblessness, homelessness and despair, and where crime, drugs and gangs are huge and debilitating social problems.

But the fact is that these protests have been a long time coming. The serious lack of community organisation and strong leadership, and the high toll of rampant crime and gangsterism in these townships were the main reasons for their previous passivity, resignation and despair.

But the protests might signal a resurgence of community struggles in these areas, especially in Eldorado Park, which previously had a fairly strong tradition of political involvement, partly due to the presence of stalwarts like Don Mattera, who lived there for many years.

However, unless these struggles are co-ordinated by a broader organisational structure they will peter out, as they often have in African townships.

Spontaneous explosions, as we have seen in those townships, too, cannot and do not last long. They usually becomes exhausted by the sheer intensity of the violence, often overly zealous police reaction, and without solid community organisation and leadership. Had these existed they would serve to control developments and direct energies and activities into more constructive channels and away from unbridled and chaotic violence.

But there is a much wider set of political questions these protests in coloured townships raise. There can be no doubt that the ANC long ago lost most of the support it had in the 1990’s in these areas.

Nothing expresses this fact today more than the electoral dominance of the DA in Eldorado Park and Ennerdale. The ANC has struggled to hold on to the little support they had in these and other coloured working-class townships, but they have not been successful in stemming their serious electoral decline in these areas, which began in the 2000s.

There are also complex dynamics at play in these townships, where inadequate and often poor housing in many parts of Eldorado Park, for example, is the biggest infrastructural problem facing poorer residents in a community with high levels of unemployment. While the DA is in office in Joburg after the local government elections of 2016, housing falls under the provincial Gauteng government, which is ANC controlled.

There can be little or no doubt that the ongoing and in fact deepening and vitriolic tensions between the DA and the ANC in the Joburg municipality have affected service delivery in areas like Eldorado Park, Ennerdale and Reiger Park. Residents are caught between the many DA and ANC clashes, which have sometimes been violent, including within municipal meetings.

But there is an even wider national problem between the ANC and coloured working-class townships.

For example, the DA is also overwhelmingly in control of other large metropolitan municipalities, such as Cape Town, where the ANC has never on its own won an election.

Nothing shows the loss of coloured support for the ANC after 1994 more than the fact that the DA is also the majority party in Mitchell’s Plain, the largest coloured working-class township in Cape Town and the birth place of the United Democratic Front in 1983.

That Mitchell’s Plain was again won by the DA in the last year's local government elections tells us unmistakeably that the ANC is unlikely to ever win Cape Town, especially since its public image has regularly taken a beating.

The ANC is today so severely and probably irreparably compromised that the possibility of an electoral victory in Cape Town and the wider Western Cape becomes ever more remote.

Until the ANC pays much more serious attention to the needs and interests of coloured people, the overwhelming majority of whom are working class and poor, and who have been an inseparable part of the black working class of this country since the 19th century at least, they will continue to mostly support the DA.

The brutal ironies of this fact cannot escape us. On the one hand, the DA is partly constituted by the old racist Nationalist Party, and on the other hand in 1994 most of the coloured working class in the Western Cape, in our first democratic elections, voted for that same party, instead of the ANC.

This was effectively a vote for their oppressors and exploiters of several centuries, something that has never happened in any country of the former colonial world in its first Uhuru elections.

The ANC has never won Cape Town on its own; instead it has continued to lose more and more support to the DA.

Similar trends have been observed in Joburg’s coloured townships over the past decade.

It is as a result primarily of this indisputable fact that coloured working-class townships across the country are characterised by gangsterism, crime, alcohol abuse, drugs and despair.

For this the ANC must take the greatest responsibility, having effectively betrayed the wishes and aspirations of the step-children of South African history, as it has, too, that of the majority African working class.

The result is that the DA has made massive inroads in the former strongholds of the ANC in Joburg and other parts of the country.

The wheels of history are spinning for the ruling party, whose hold on power has been shaken like never before, and it is a stark decline that appears irreversible now.

In the light of the betrayals of the elitist and now evidently bankrupt ANC, the African and coloured working class, the overwhelming majority of this country, requires a party of their own, one that is dedicated to their own class interests and a socialist future.

In that regard the question is this: though tiny at the moment, could that party be the Socialist and Workers Party (Wasp), whose policies and objectives certainly reflect the interests and needs of the entire black working class.

* Harvey is a political writer, analyst and author.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Saturday Star