UF Alive, Well and United

Mail & Guardian

By Mazibuko Jara 24 July 2015 00:00

The nonparty-political movement is on track and has achieved a lot.

RIGHT OF REPLY

The United Front (UF) neither wishes nor expects the Mail & Guardian to be its mouthpiece. But the UF does expect the M&G to provide quality, objective, truthful and balanced journalism that is not jaundiced or prejudiced.

Regrettably, its article on the United Front (An indefinite pause on a workers’ revolution) fails its readers, the general public and the high-quality standards of journalism. It ends up being a propagandistic piece that deliberately misinforms the public and unfairly puts the UF on the back foot.

The UF sent the bulk of this response to the M&G prior to the publication of the article. Why did the M&G choose to ignore it? To write such a response is not our preferred option of working with the media. We would rather be focusing on our campaigns, as we have done through some 20 press statements over the last six months and which the M&G has ignored to date.

The article, by Phillip de Wet, is shown up by another article in the same edition, by Kwanele Sosibo (Front must find a ‘clear, radical’ stance), which provides readers with a real taste of community struggles and the role the UF has played in some of them. Sosibo’s article is balanced and fair, and quotes real people representing real organisations.

De Wet’s article is entirely based on unnamed sources, as if the UF did not provide answers to the questions theM&G sent. Why did the M&G choose to silence the UF?

The UF is not waiting for the emergence of a new workers’ political party or a new trade union federation. It exists in its own right as a broad coalition of workers, youth, women, the unemployed, civic organisations, social movements, rural people, progressive activists and academics, and other mass organisations.

There is broad consensus about the nonparty-political nature of the front. There is ongoing consideration of, and debate about, how the UF should relate to the process by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) for a movement for socialism, as well as to the ongoing political struggles in Cosatu. In six national meetings, the UF has debated these questions and has now commissioned a discussion paper on these issues ahead of its founding conference.

De Wet’s article also claims that delegates at the UF’s preparatory assembly found little to agree on except that the ANC was to blame for almost all the woes of workers and the country as a whole. This is a lie the M&G already told in an earlier article, in December 2014 (Numsa’s Front: United only in opposition).

The M&G ignores a publicly available 26-page report of agreements achieved at the assembly. The overwhelming consensus achieved then laid the basis for what the UF has done in the past six months.

This is far from the front having very little to agree on. That there are ongoing debates within the front has been public knowledge from the beginning – about the political orientation of the UF to socialism and the Freedom Charter, how to approach the 2016 municipal elections and whether political parties and individuals should join the front. These were publicly stated and explained in the assembly’s report and the debate continues.

De Wet also wrongly claims that the UF will support candidates of an as-yet-nonexistent workers’ party. Is there even a need to reply to this absurdity? The UF will decide on its approach to the 2016 municipal elections at its founding conference.

At this point in time, all provincial conferences have debated the matter and put forward several proposals, which are being synthesised into a composite document for further debate.

On funding, there is no expectation that Numsa will pay for the UF. The preparatory assembly proudly asserted that the front must not depend on Numsa and that it must finance itself. In the six short months of our existence, we have not had sufficient time to raise enough of the R3.5-million required for the founding conference or the additional millions needed for operations, programmes and campaigns.

We merely reasserted that we will ensure that from the word go, the front will be able to raise its own money. We do not assume Numsa will bankroll it.

This, however, required human resources, and a fundraising plan and its implementation. And this we did not do. In the past six months, instead of fundraising we have been paying attention to campaigns, building UF structures and having internal political debates. These activities have been key in defining the UF and building momentum towards the founding conference. As of our June national meeting, we are now implementing a full fundraising plan.

It is untrue that Numsa stopped funding the UF before the June conference. To its credit, Numsa continues to contribute financial resources, deploy 15 organisers and provide office infrastructure and administrative support. This is a good foundation that our new fundraising plan is building on.

Contrary to the article, the UF has not had several interim and steering committees. There has only ever been one interim national working committee plus provincial counterparts. The seven provincial conferences elected new committees, replacing the interim structures. The same will happen with the election of a national committee at the founding conference.

In the meantime, the national committee has recommended expansion by co-opting representatives of mass organisations affiliated to the UF, such as new civic initiative the Congress of South African Nonracial Community Movements, the Right2Know Campaign, the Inyanda National Land Movement and the South African Food Sovereignty Campaign.

The UF does not have “token” organisations in provinces. It has about 240 real people’s organisations – small advice offices, social movements, civics, rural movements, independent trade unions, women’s organisations, youth groups and individuals from Cosatu affiliates. The UF exists in 42 centres across the country (which has about 50 districts). As the Sosibo article shows, these organisations are rooted in working-class communities and are taking up real bread-and-butter issues.

According to De Wet, the UF has not done anything other than stage a protest in March outside the United States consulate in Sandton and call in June for citizens to “jam the presidential hotline, fax, email address and postbox with the message: ‘President Zuma – pay back the money you owe us for your private home. Listen to us as the people!”

This is bad journalism. The UF press statement calling for the jamming of the presidential hotline also called for a national march against corruption to the Union Buildings, as well as a mass protest in front of Parliament on the day that Police Minister Nathi Nhleko presented his Nkandla report to the relevant parliamentary committee.

The same statement called for the consideration of a legal challenge to overturn Nhleko’s decision and push for the legal enforcement of the public protector’s report on Nkandla. Thanks to the UF initiative, the marches to Parliament and the Union Buildings will become a reality on August 7 and 19 respectively.

Yet again, contrary to the article, the UF is not a mere adjunct of the anticorruption march. It is a cofounder of the broad coalition organising it and sits on the committee. In addition, the UF has demonstrated its capability to organise campaigns involving workers and communities, including:

  • Protesting against the youth wage subsidy as a false solution to youth unemployment;
  • Fighting against the austerity of the 2015 national budget through a march of some 4 000 people to Parliament and six protests during provincial budget speeches;
  • Compiling an alternative State of the Nation address;
  • Mobilising for the massive march against xenophobia in March;
  • Organising 25 protests on March 21 against police brutality, with a focus on ending the police/army siege in Thembelihle, and the joint release with Right2Know on intelligence spying on social movements;
  • Launching the South Africa We Want campaign by means of five people’s assemblies on April 27;
  • Supporting localised protests, in particular that of the Amadiba Crisis Committee in Xolobeni;
  • Co-hosting the successful electricity conference held at the beginning of June, resulting in an agreed programme of action, a picket at the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) hearings and a submission to Nersa; and
  • Mobilising a broad campaign to win justice for Marikana workers and families following the release of the Farlam commission’s report.

Our own weaknesses are in planning campaigns, having a thin activist layer, not yet being able to sustain campaigns until victories are won, a lack of sufficient funds and limited media work. Yet, despite these weaknesses, these campaigns show that the claim that the UF risks irrelevance is plainly propagandistic. The June national meeting paid attention to these weaknesses and developed a strategy that we are now rolling out.

The article claims that there is low morale in the UF. All De Wet needed to do is what his colleague Sosibo did: speak to any UF member, leader or affiliate from the 240 organisations that make up the front. All of them would say building the front is not easy, but that the process has started and is exciting and inspiring.

The M&G chose not to report what we told the paper, which was that we will decide at the end of October when to hold the founding conference. There are rather shallow media understandings of the “third postponement” of the UF launch and of an overstretched Numsa. This view narrowly reduces the UF formation process to an event.

It was a mistake to declare the launch date in advance, because political processes mature best when they do so organically and on the basis of achieving milestones one by one. This is the approach we are now following. Already, the launch of provincial and regional structures, the recruitment of affiliates and the initiation of campaigns are significant milestones.

Mazibuko Jara is the national secretary of the United Front

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UF calls on Wits to guarantee rights of protest and to end outsourcing

United Front calls on Wits University to guarantee rights of protest and to end policy of outsourcing

The United Front (UF) condemns the actions of Wits University management to punish the workers and students who at the end of May 2015 occupied the office of the Vice-Chancellor in support of MJL workers who have lost their jobs and income.

The workers and students were protesting against the outsourcing of services by Wits University. As a result of outsourcing many workers employed at the University have no job security whatsoever. In particular, Wits contractor MJL Electrical, since January 2015, has failed to pay workers their full salaries and to pay in UIF, tax and provident fund monies despite making deductions from workers’ wages.

Workers are unable to access these benefits. Wits management has now terminated their contract with MJL and the workers were discarded on the 1st of June with no benefits and no wages.

Following the occupation, Wits University sought and was granted an interdict by the court to stop occupation despite the fact that workers and students had by that time voluntarily ended the occupation. The interdict goes further, and is significantly more punitive, than just an order to stop the occupation. It violates students and workers’ constitutional right to protest.

Furthermore, the court granted costs against the students and workers which would render those same workers and students liable for the University’s legal expenses. Expecting students and unemployed workers to pay is ridiculous. By pursuing such an order it affects students ability to study, targets the unemployed, and curbs the right to protest and freedom of expression. How can the University do this?
How can the University be ever regarded as an institution promoting academic freedom? This action by Wits University amounts to severe political repression.

We call on Wits University to stop the effects of this interdict, and to guarantee in writing the rights of workers, students and academics to protest without let or hindrance. We also call on Wits University to end its policy of outsourcing and to provide job security to all workers who provide required and essential services at the university. This policy regards the University as a corporate entity which can easily discard workers at the whims of neo-liberal management dictates.

We call on all trade unions and other civil society organisations to stand with the MJL workers and the Wits Workers Solidarity Committee. We call for sending of protest letters to Vice-Chancellor Professor Adam Habib: email addresses – adam.habib@wits.ac.za and his PA: Ms. Kanina Foss Kanina.Foss@wits.ac.za, fax – 086 726 3064.

FOR COMMENTS, CONTACT:
1. Mazibuko K. Jara: UF National Secretary – 083 987 9633
2. John Appolis: UF Campaigns Coordinator – 073 408 2674
3. Siyabonga Mbuqe: Gauteng UF – 076 889 5459

UF Response to the Nhleko Report on Nkandla

1 June 2015

UNITED FRONT 

PRESS STATEMENT: RESPONSE TO THE NHLEKO REPORT ON NKANDLA

 

ULTIMATELY, #ZUMA WILL FALL!

DON’T MOURN! MOBILISE FOR PEOPLE’S POWER!

END THE LOOTING OF PUBLIC RESOURCES!

Nkandla! Nkandla! Nkandla! … We as the people will not stop saying Nkandla! We will not only talk, now we will also act to get back what has been stolen from us.

 

Thixo, thina siyazi ukuba wena awukho se-George Goch… Lizalis’ idinga lakho, Thixo nkosi yenyaniso!… Uze usivuselele.

 

Emerging from its 30-31 May 2015 meeting, the Interim National Working Committee (NWC) of the United Front (UF) adds its voice to the widespread public anger, shock and disappointment with the report and decision of the Minister of Safety and Security Nathi Nhleko that President Jacob Zuma will not reimburse any of the public money spent on his private home in Nkandla. The UF stands with all people of good conscience. We must all end this criminal conspiracy usurping the dreams and aspirations of the South Africa we want and deserve. It is this most serious attack on accountability, transparency and clean governance

We cannot merely moan and complain through press statements or social media, or merely laugh at the deliberately eccentric, yet callous President Zuma.

The UF calls on millions of our people to jam the Presidential Hotline, fax number, email address and post box with the message: “President Zuma – Pay Back the Money you owe us for your private home. Listen to us as the People!”. Wherever you are, please take the time to name and shame President Zuma using the contact details of his below:

1.    Presidential Hotline number (toll free) – 17737;

2.    Fax number to President Zuma’s office – 012 323 8246 and 086 681 0987;

3.    Email addresses for President Zuma’s office – president@presidency.gov.zapresidentrsa@presidency.gov.za; and

4.    Postal address – Union Buildings, Private Bag X1000, Pretoria, 0001

The UF endorses the call by former COSATU General Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, for a national march to the Union Buildings to demand that President Zuma pays back our money, and to defend the autonomy and integrity of the Public Protector and our hard-won Constitution. We shall join Comrade Vavi in the mobilisation of a coalition of people’s organisations to mobilise for this march. The UF further calls for such a coalition of people’s organisations to consider these additional actions:

1.    A mass protest in front of parliament on the day that Minister Nhleko will present this report to the relevant committee of parliament and on the next day President Zuma addresses parliament;

2.    A legal challenge to overturn Nhleko’s decision and report; and

3.    The legal enforcement of the report of the Public Protector on the Nkandla matter.

 

In the comings weeks, the UF will consult a wide range of organisations to pursue the above actions and other proposals.

Further, at midday on 26 June 2015, the 1 000 delegates who will attend the UF Launch Conference in Garankuwa will also observe a moment of silence to protest Nhleko’s decision. This protest will reclaim the injunctions of the Freedom Charter that “no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of all the people”, and “All Shall be Equal Before the Law!”.  The UF calls on all South Africans to join these conference delegates by also observing a moment of silence and candlelight protest at 12h00 on 26 June 2015 at workplaces and communities. This will be the most appropriate way to mark the 60th anniversary of the Freedom Charter, and to reclaim it from the horrible legacy that Zuma represents. The UF will also use its Launch Rally on 28 June 2015 as a public protest action in support of the above demands. The UF calls on civil society and the general public to join this rally in the Tembisa township in Ekurhuleni.

We undertake these actions because Nhleko’s decision is a naked and unashamed defence of the indefensible. We echo Archbishop Desmond Tutu when he says, “it is unconscionable to spend hundreds of millions of rands on the President’s spurious ‘security’ needs’”. As the report of the Public Protector (Advocate Thuli Madonsela) on the same matter showed, the construction of a swimming pool, kraal and chicken coop at President Zuma’s home and other expenditure was illegitimate, excessive unlawful and wasteful expenditure that were for President Zuma’s private benefit for which he should reimburse the fiscus.

 

Nhleko’s report has engineered a profound ethical and constitutional crisis that cannot be ignored. President Zuma’s government wantonly disregards the constitutional obligation and duty for accountable, transparent, good and clean governance. Nhleko abused his executive powers to manipulate justice: this is executive lawlessness. Nhleko’s report undermines our collective intelligence and it does not respect us. This government does not care for public opinion and public interest.

 

Nkandla represents nothing else but the most greedy looting of public resources at the service of a greedy elite that President Zuma represents. This elite feeds off their control of what should be our public institutions and resources controlled, by and accountable to us as the people. The 25% increase in electricity prices Eskom is asking for, the hated e-tolls, golden handshakes for failed senior managers that drain the public purse, the illicit use of public money to pay for the hosting of the 2010 World Cup, the failure to deliver medicine to hospitals, the failure to supply decent sanitation in schools, the failure to solve the housing crisis – all of these, and many more are part of the enrichment of this elite. Like any criminal elite, they distribute mere crumbs to the poor in the form of social grants.

If President Zuma cared about this country, its Constitution and its people, he would voluntarily meet the call by the December 2013 Numsa Special National Congress to resign. This call is now more legitimate and relevant than ever. Zuma is not the President we deserve. Indeed, #Zuma will ultimately fall. But this is not possible without sustained mass mobilisation for clean and accountable governance, and socio-economic transformation.

Ultimately, #Zuma Must Fall!

Don’t Mourn! Mobilise for People’s Power!

FOR COMMENTS, CONTACT:

1.    Mazibuko K. Jara: UF National Secretary – 083 987 9633

2.    John Appolis: UF Campaigns Coordinator – 073 408 2674

Other Media:

Spam the Presidency over Nkandla: UF

Spam the Presidency over Nkandla, says United Front

The ANC’s Nkandla bloodsport: Extreme foot-shooting and self-sabotage

Op-Ed: The fog of Nkandla lies and SA’s national psyche

Encircled ANC must look within

Thembelihle residents to picket against “state of emergency”

The Citizen

3 April 2015 10.52 am

Following violent protests in Thembelihle informal settlement near Lenasia last month, residents led by the Thembelihle Crisis Committee will picket today against the undeclared, unofficial state of emergency experienced in the area.

According to the Right2Know campaign (R2K), the police “siege from 25 February involved deployment of various heavily armed police units including, Johannesburg Metro Police Department, Tactical Response Team, Crime Intelligence Unit over and above the Public Order Policing Unit amongst others.”

“During the clampdown, gross human rights violations have been experienced in the very same month marked for the celebration of human rights,” said R2K.

This has led to the picket which will take place opposite the police station in Lenasia, south of Johannesburg.

“The community feels strongly that the SAPS should account for their transgressions and the picket will serve as a stepping stone towards a broader campaign to have those responsible brought to account for such unwarranted actions,” R2K added.

The picket will be supported by the R2K, the United Front and the Democratic Left Front.

“The siege will not stop the determination of Thembelihle residents to have the Gauteng MEC for Housing come to our community and account as per his long-promised commitments,” the crisis committee said.

FILE PICTURE: Protesting Thembelihle residents throw stones at the police as members of the SAPS and JMPD attempt to disperse them, 26 February 2015. Thembelihle residents took to the streets after a Lenasia man shot two protesters on Wednesday night who were threatening to burn electricity boxes in the suburb. The man was arrested. Twenty protesters were later arrested for public violence. Picture: Michel Bega

‘Set up inquiry into how Eskom is run’

IOL Business Report

February 12 2015 at 09:00am
By Marianne Merten

Cape Town – Eskom cannot be allowed to be privatised, not even partially, but the running of the power utility must come under scrutiny of a commission of inquiry, the United Front (UF) said on Wednesday.

Delivering its alternate state of the nation address on the eve of President Jacob Zuma’s speech on Thursday, the front’s Mazibuko Jara said such an inquiry must closely look at the contracts Eskom signed for its coal and the salary packages, including bonuses, paid to its bosses and board members.

“There is a need for an urgent conference of civil society to deal with the energy crisis,” said Jara, adding the drive would be towards a “socially-owned renewable energy sector” as current government policy on independent power producers did not remove the profit motive.

It recently emerged Eskom paid R24.4 million to its three top executives last year, less than eight months after the DA demanded Eskom executives repay the R31m they received in bonuses the year before.

In recent months Eskom repeatedly blamed the poor quality of coal as contributing to the the load-shedding, which it said would be reality for the next two years.

“Eskom’s long-delayed renewable energy strategies can deliver electricity much more quickly and cheaply than supposedly reliable coal,” Jara said. “As with coal, the ANC government’s commitment to fracking (hydraulic fracturing for shale gas in the Karoo) is cause for great concern. Stories of environmental devastation from fracking operations continue to emerge from around the world.”

Instead the UF was looking at proposals for “a socially-owned renewable energy sector” as proposed by groups like Earth Africa.

The UF is a coalition of leftist and activist groups and individuals brought together following metalworkers’ union Numsa’s 2013 special congress resolution to co-ordinate grassroots and workplace issues.

The UF yesterday delivered a scathing critique of the government’s failure to deliver on its undertakings to citizens.

Expecting little but “misdiagnosis and tokenistic solutions” from Zuma’s State of the Nation address despite what it called a deepening socio-economic and political crisis, the UF believed “an increasing number of people are recognising the South Africa of today is not the country we deserve and demand”.

Political Bureau

Photo: ongoing construction of Eskom’s new build coal-fired power station Medupi.

UF slams ‘state of nonsense’

IOL

February 12 2015 at 10:38am
By Marianne Merten

Johannesburg –

Little but a “state of nonsense” was expected when President Jacob Zuma later on Thursday delivers his State of the Nation Address in Parliament, the United Front (UF) said on Wednesday.

“The official SONA (State of the Nation Address) and the opening of Parliament have become a naked display of power and unashamed greed of the elite.

“Sadly, far from being humble servants of the people, all our politicians have become the new self-serving Wabenzi,” said front national secretary Mazibuko Jara, delivering an alternative state of the nation.

The UF was scathing about the lack of progress made and cautioned about a good story being told through “misdiagnosis and tokenistic solutions”.

Jara said while there were many progressive laws and policies, these had not reduced South Africa’s levels of inequality.

And frequently, the government failed to adhere to legal stipulations: the alternative mining indaba in Cape Town has heard from communities near mining activity who were not consulted, as required, before licences were awarded.

In agriculture, 80 percent of food in South Africa was produced by just 20 percent of the current 35 000 commercial farmers, and while the country was a food net exporter in most years, half of South Africa’s population did not have consistent access to nutritious food, according a recent Oxfam report on inequality.

Meanwhile, the Global Financial Integrity report showed R300 billion in profits left South Africa in illicit capital transfers as particularly mining companies appeared not to declare profits for tax reasons, Jara added.

The alternative State of the Nation was styled as a call of action – and on Budget day in two weeks’ time, the UF wants a demonstration outside Parliament to demand the proper financing of Eskom to end load shedding, a socially owned renewable energy sector to give communities a say, and the end to night soil buckets by December.

Karl Cloete, metalworkers’ union Numsa’s deputy general secretary, who spoke in support of the UF, said the union was intrigued that 2015 had been declared by the ANC, and the government, as the year to reclaim the Freedom Charter.

“If you need to reclaim something, you must have lost it somewhere.”

The Star

Bophelong: The march that wasn’t, and the protest that didn’t

Daily Maverick

NIKI MOORE 10 FEB 2015 12:44 (SOUTH AFRICA)

Last Friday, the United Front, along with the Economic Freedom Fighters, organised a march through Bophelong, a township of about 46,000 people in the Emfuleni district of southern Gauteng. It’s a volatile area with a history of unrest: nearby Boipatong and Sharpeville, the sites of notorious massacres. The UF last week wanted to petition the council of Emfuleni district to supply them with a 24-hour clinic and a police station. They invited me, as a journalist, to come along to witness how the UF was mobilising. The march never happened; the protest never took place. And that, on several levels, is a deeply worrying fact. By NIKI MOORE.

For a place that has such a history of violent and determined protest, the Friday march was subdued to the point of invisibility. I met up with the delegates from the United Front and two organisers from the EFF, and we went off to the gathering place, about a block away from the local municipal office. There were a number of police vehicles parked outside the council block, but they proved to be unnecessary. As it turned out, not only the police outnumbered the protesters, but the organisers did as well.

After half an hour of energetic singing and dancing on the spot, only five members of the community had turned up. People walked past, carrying their shopping, and gave the gathering some curious looks. Some kids playing in the street joined in, sitting on bricks and watching the proceedings.

As time went on, and three o’ clock became four o’ clock, it became obvious that there was going to be no support for this march. Doctor (his given name) Madumisa, the organiser of the march, was bitterly disappointed.

“We applied late for permission,” he admitted, “and therefore we were not allowed to march, we were only allowed to picket in front of the council.” This contradicted dark mutterings that the march had been sabotaged. It also pointed to a worrying lack of organisational ability within the UF. But there were other, more sinister reasons why no-one turned up.

One old gent, who was pulled in by curiosity and then watched proceedings for a while, vouchsafed that the people of Bophelong were sick and tired of protests, community meetings and political parties.

“We are always getting called to meetings,” he said. “They tell us that we are going to get jobs, and that we must sign a paper with our names. Then they take these names to the council and say that they will be employing all these people. Then they get the money, and they don’t know us after that – the money and the jobs go to their friends.”

He and his friend also expressed a deep distrust of politics. The people of Bophelong are longer interested in politics, or political parties, they said.

“We know that the ANC members go door to door in Bophelong,” said UF organiser Mirriam Makhalemele, “and they tell people that if they protest or march, they will lose their RDP houses and grants.”

This allegation was independently confirmed by a DA councillor for the district, Simon Nkosi:

“Yes, they go door to door and they threaten the population. But another problem is that young people, they are not interested in politics or activism, they are only interested in parties and social media. So the old people are threatened by the ANC, and the young people don’t want to get involved.”

The two EFF organisers were disappointed as well, but had a different reason: “We came along as representatives,” said one. “We did not think that we needed to come as a mass. We are here to represent our branches. But next time, it looks like, we are going to have to bring our branches.”

After some desultory waiting around for two hours, a lot of singing and dancing, and some fiery speeches delivered to the eventual audience of about twenty, the decision was made to postpone the march, organise it properly, and bring the masses.

Bophelong is a depressing place. The ‘CBD’ consists of shacks, spaza shops, rutted roads and a littered parking lot. But one thing startled me completely: every third car or so that drove past us on that long, hot Friday afternoon was a brand-new Merc, BMW, 4×4 or drop-top sports car. These are cars that would draw attention even in the most upmarket ‘leafy suburb’ or luxury city hang-out.

“Just look at the cars!” I said to Mirriam, as three spanking new luxury sedans drove past in procession. “How can people claim to be poor and needy when they drive cars like that?”

Mirriam laughed. “Those are councillors and council employees, who are coming to look at us to see how our march is progressing,” she said. “And they are councillors’ friends, who get the tenders. They are also coming by, to celebrate the fact that our march has not worked.” She paused and added, almost as an afterthought: “This is a very corrupt council.”

It is also a bankrupt council. According to the Emfuleni 2013/2014 Annual Report, the municipality ran at a loss of more than a third of a billion rand during the financial year: “These conditions indicate the existence of a material uncertainty that may cast significant doubt on the municipality’s ability to operate as a going concern,” the report noted.

According to councillor Simon Nkosi, half of the district’s income is spent on salaries. “Everyone earns huge salaries,” he said. “But they don’t do the work, they call in contractors. So the work is being paid for twice.”

This is confirmed by the figures: the district’s budget is worked out on an 85% collection rate (those people who pay their bills). The salary portion of the budget is 35% of this (which is already extremely high, as the norm should be 25%.) However, the real collection rate is closer to 65%, which means that yes, half the income is spent on municipal salaries. What is left is spent on operating or running costs, leaving nothing over for infrastructure. This is why Bophelong looks the way it does: luxury cars driven by highly-paid officials on crumbling roads past shacks and spazas.

Bophelong has almost 50% unemployment. The only jobs going are those in government, which means that the entire council and all the contractors have a strong vested interest in keeping the status quo.

The United Front is well aware of this, and is campaigning heavily to mobilise people to vote against the ANC. “We are going to stay a-political,” says Makhalemele. “The UF will never be a political party, it will always be a civic organisation. During the local government elections, if independents stand for election, and they come from credible groups that work with us, like community leaders, then we will support them.”

This might be a very difficult task. In general elections, voters usually shun independent candidates. In Bophelong, however, it seems that people have shunned the democratic process altogether. Young people are not interested in politics or voting, older people vote from fear or sentiment. In the last municipal elections in 2011, the voter turn-out in this region was a little over 50%. People might be turning away from the ruling party, but they are not turning towards any opposition.

Bophelong is a strange place: a desperately poor township occupied by lots of rich people. A place with a strong protest history with residents not interested in protest. The ‘Young Turks’ of the UF and the EFF, by the looks of things, have a long way to go. DM

Photo: The EFF and the UF organisers are upbeat, despite a lacklustre response to their protest. (Niki Moore)