With the local government elections approaching, politicians (whether from the DA, COPE, ANC or PAC) are once again crawling out, like cockroaches, to ask for our votes. As part of this, they are once again promising us houses, jobs and service delivery – the usual old recycled lies. The reality, however, is that we don’t have houses and proper service delivery because we live in a system of total inequality – a system of capitalism and the state. The councillors lying to us know this, but they want our votes so that they too can become comfortable and rich.
In fact, there is such bad housing and service delivery because the politicians from the ANC, DA, COPE and the PAC have cut funding for services for years. In the 1990s, under ANC rule, allocations to municipalities for “service delivery” were cut by an average of 85%. The only way municipalities can raise money, therefore, is through charging the poor. It is the state’s policy, and the policy of all political parties, that municipalities must raise funds from service charges. Services, like water and electricity, are therefore only provided to those who can afford them. The poor can’t pay so under this cruel system our water and electricity are cut. On top of that, the poor are made to pay more for services – precisely because they often can’t pay, cost recovery drives councils and utilities to suck every drop they can out of the townships. Township residents pay rates up to 40 percent higher than those in the rich suburbs. And capitalists – the big bosses – have it even easier: industry rates are typically one-sixth of those charged to the suburbs! The poor can’t pay much, and the rich don’t pay much. The result is that most municipalities in South Africa are bankrupt or indebted and cannot deliver the services we are promised. However, this does not mean that central government does not have money. It simply means that the government rather spends it on infrastructure development, like stadiums, that it hopes will make South Africa look like a good place for foreign investors. This happens while the poor are cut off, evicted and forced to have prepaid meters.
What all this means is that it makes no difference if we elect new councillors. Even the most honest, well meaning and hard working councilor – which are rare – is powerless to make any change. This does not mean we shouldn’t resist the councillors and demand the services we need. But it does mean that our resistance is equally against the capitalists, and against the national government. We cannot expect Jacob Zuma to solve our problems: Zuma is part of the problem because his government are the ones pushing these policies! And we cannot expect to solve the problem by electing new councilors: councilors couldn’t solve the problem even if they wanted to. The capitalists and the national government could solve it – but they won’t, because it’s in their interests to make the poor pay, not to pay themselves. They will not give us what we need unless we force them to do so, by the direct action like protests.
Though the workers and the poor are the vast majority, the bosses and rulers control the resources – and they will not allow us to challenge them in parliament and city councils. Parliament and councils are their territory; and when we send our comrades onto enemy territory, our comrades will be lost to us. Sitting with councillors whose interests are tied to the rich rather than the poor and the workers, they will be drawn away from the people and side with the class enemy.
In previous elections, the Poor People’s Alliance has adopted the slogan “No land, no house, no vote!”. It was not supposed to only be the position for that year’s elections, but the official position of the alliance for all elections to come. Working class movements should stick with this slogan instead of being drawn to illusions that voting will help. Voting will not win us land, houses, electricity and water; only direct action can do that. And direct action, by destroying capitalism and the state, can finally win land, housing, water and electricity for all, and ensure that these are never again taken away.