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President Cyril Ramaphosa addressing the Alexandra community days after their protests. Picture: Tebogo Letsie/City Press
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It was only a matter of time before the façade dropped. Aware that he is more popular than the ANC, President Ramaphosa imposed on the people of Alexandra a government speech using the wrong platform, writes Lukhona Mnguni.
Dear Mr. President Ramaphosa, the ANC badge is not our prized coat of arms that stands as a symbol of what it means to be South African. Never have I seen so brazen a spectacle of publicly conflating the roles of ANC president and South African president, all this while you were clad in ANC colours.
It was only a matter of time before the façade dropped. Aware that you are more popular than the ANC brand, you imposed on the people of Alexandra a government speech using the wrong platform.
To some this might not expressly present itself as problematic and thus those who take you to task will appear as fringe lunatics hell-bent on spoiling the festivity of celebrations as you managed to walk right through Alex without hindrance in a stage-managed political theatre. Bravo for a good performance. The result may just be an ANC in the Gauteng Province that scrambles to victory by putting together a coalition government.
READ: 'Your mayor is scared to face you' - Ramaphosa tells Alex residents
Over time people have become aware of what actions could bring them solutions to the daily challenges they confront. Your actions in Alex were far from brokering genuine and sustainable solutions.
I must state that I remain amazed at how easily you find living conditions of the most downtrodden of our people as a revelation. You spoke of having seen rats on the streets of Alex, surely this must have been no revelation given that the rat infestation in Alex (due to filth and overcrowding) has been subject to much public debate including contesting views on the usage of barn owls to combat the infestation. Are you unfamiliar with these? Or are you simply a product of the Sandton/Alex divide that is the greatest indication of our socioeconomic disparities?
Mr President, do you know the people you are leading, or do you need a tour to discover who they are?
Let us travel down memory lane before we wallow in the despair of your presentation of victimhood and seemingly ill-considered bravado of your country president hat that you wore when it suited you during your speech.
The township of Alexandra is cited as one of, if not the, oldest township in our society. Alex has produced some of the most influential people in our country, including within the ranks of your political party. It has, unfortunately, also produced people of questionable character – some are called "the Alex mafia". I am sure you know them. What I am uncertain of is whether or not they are as influential and ruthless as they are made out to be.
Alex was identified by former president Thabo Mbeki as one of eight development nodes across the country where the urban renewal programme would be piloted. This, at a local level, got to be known as the Alexandra Renewal Project (ARP) – initiated by the Presidency in what should have become an intergovernmental approach to development. What prompted this was a realisation, as far back as 2000, that living conditions in the surrounds of Alex – including along the Jukskei River – had become so congested that they made "living conditions stressful, unhealthy and dangerous" according to a HSRC study of 2003.
Why do you seem to awaken to a new reality about Alex, Mr President? Its problems have gotten progressively worse and better all the same. The place is a melting pot of contradicting realities of what development means in South Africa, particularly in communities like Alex. In the same study by the HSRC, the ARP programme manager was interviewed. In 2003 already, Carien Engelbrecht, while realising the important role the City of Johannesburg should play in the ARP, went on to emphasise the importance of all government spheres working together. The programme manager argued that the IDP is a "good planning tool – but not sufficient for a programme such as ARP. The ARP involves all three levels of government and is supposed to offer a model for urban renewal...".
I thought it important to offer this quick tutorial so that I am not lost in translation. The Presidency of the republic should be at the forefront of being concerned with how programmes such as the ARP have failed – 16 years on – to yield the envisaged vision. Perhaps the vision was defective? What do you think? Perhaps the leaders were found wanting as you have been? What do you think?
The vision was defective in the sense that it wanted to renew that which was never meant to be a quality living environment.
Our townships were started with the sole reason of being black labour reserves. Their positioning ordinarily limits the ability for infrastructure development and their spatial development makes it difficult for those who live in them to have a sound neighbourhood to be proud of. Instead of seeing it necessary to eradicate some of these townships or decrease the population in them, your governing party has decided to upgrade these concentration camps.
If you have ever walked in Alex at night in the last ten years (I doubt you would attempt this) you would know that the township is unsustainable and a nightmare for development.
Your praise singing of the #TotalShutdownAlex took the high road of ANC political opportunism instead of coordinating efforts as the president of the republic to ensure that the grievances of the people of Alex are attended to. Unless this was manufactured grief to 'prove' how loved you are as a leader.
You brazenly stated, "I have arrived here in Alexandra while others are scared to come…" You have the wrong target in Herman Mashaba, Mr President. Electioneering by targeting a mayor that is not popularly known as a DA member but simply a DA mayor is ill-advised. It carries very little weight and does not "reverberate" significantly throughout the Gauteng province for your electoral prospects.
I understand the fear to lose Gauteng must be foremost in the ANC's mind. Your organisation lost almost 11% of its support in 2014 from what it enjoyed in 2009. Has the downward spiral been arrested? It's difficult to say when the president continues to entertain political gimmicks instead of providing leadership.
You seem to have joined the bandwagon of prying on the difficulties and squalor of our people for political fortunes. The ANC was in government in the City of Johannesburg just under three years ago. Has the party forgotten, so selectively and quickly, the difficulties of a community like Alex, which as indicated above has always been on the radar of our developmental efforts as a country?
Desist from dishonesty and opportunism, Mr President.
You must decide if you want to lead this country or not. The #TotalShutdownAlex was presented as a cause that affects citizens of Alexandra, not only ANC members. You seized the moment to campaign and hold a rally. The issues presented by #TotalShutdownAlex need a well-coordinated intergovernmental approach long called for by then ARP programme manager Engelbrecht in 2003.
Mr President, the political landscape is changing. After the May 8 elections you might need to learn how to co-govern with the opposition and in coalition governments much more effectively. These winds of change demand sober, compassionate, visionary and upright leaders. Are you up for the task? Stop conflating the state and party.
In Alex, you should have done better. You chose not to, wilfully or by attending to the impulses of political opportunism the ANC finds difficult to extricate itself from. You have let down an entire people whose lives bear the brunt of hardship daily.
If you don't step up, Mr President, you will be punished by the electorate.
- Mnguni is an independent political analyst.
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