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Un/governable Service delivery protests and violent pluralism in South Africa Devi Pillay | 3759628 For

Un/governable

Un/governable Service delivery protests and violent pluralism in South Africa Devi Pillay | 3759628 For Violent

Service delivery protests and violent pluralism in South Africa

delivery protests and violent pluralism in South Africa Devi Pillay | 3759628 For Violent Democracies Words

Devi Pillay | 3759628

For

Violent Democracies

Words excl. bibliography: 4478

UCUSSCANT34

|

Contemporary

in South Africa Devi Pillay | 3759628 For Violent Democracies Words excl. bibliography: 4478 UCUSSCANT34 |

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Contents

Introduction

2

Theoretical framework

2

Anatomy of a service delivery protest

4

Explanations of violence

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Angry young

men

6

The phantom

state

7

Deep connections

7

Collective trauma

9

Conclusions

12

Bibliography

13

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Introduction

Protests and collective action have been an important part of South African civil society for decades. The current phenomenon of service delivery protests - incidences of community action against local governments, demanding better services - has been firmly dated at beginning in 2004 and, although statistics vary widely, most academic work is comfortable with the claim that during the average week between 2004 and 2008, there were up to ten protests involving unrest and, after Zuma’s election to the presidency in 2009, the numbers have only gone up (Alexander 2010).

This paper aims to examine the phenomenon of service delivery protests. Much work has been done on violence and specifically violent crime in South Africa, and there are the beginnings of strong scholarship on the issue of collective violence. However, there is still a dearth of work on the interplay between service delivery protests and democracy. In this paper I will analyse service delivery protests using Goldstein and Arias’s (2008) violent pluralism as a major framework. I will consider a variety of perspectives to answer the question: why do service delivery protests overwhelmingly turn violent? I am to place violence in protests as a firmly political action embedded within a democratic framework, and analyse how this perspective can improve our understanding on violence in the South African context.

The first section will deal with the theoretical framework, with specific reference to violent pluralism. The second section will give an overview of service delivery protests in South Africa, and identify some important patterns. The third section will discuss the context of violence, state and delivery in South Africa, to ground the analysis to follow. Section four will detail various approaches to violent service delivery protests as democratic engagement.

Theoretical framework

Violent pluralism as conceived by Goldstein and Arias (2010) is an approach to understanding how democracies can coexist with violence. It conceives the presence of violence not as failures of the state, institutions or democracy but rather a fundamental and integral element of these democracies. They conceptualise Latin American democracies as violently plural, “with states, social elites, and subalterns employing violence in the quest to establish or contest regimes of citizenship, justice, rights and a democratic social order.” (4-5)

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This understanding of violence moves us away from seeing violence as aberration of failure, and allows us to analyse the role that violence plays within a lived, democratic reality.

This conceptualisation of violent democratic societies as violently plural is explored in relation to Latin America. In this paper I will apply this approach in analysing South African forms of political and collective violence. South Africa is an archetypal “violent democracy”, with very high rates of violent crime, murder and sexual assaults, as well as an incredibly bloody history and recent transformation to democracy. Particularly, I believe that violent political protest is a means of political participation embedded in the South African collective consciousness and within our socio-political structure.

The South African context

South Africa has been long enmeshed in social violence and disruptions to the social order. Non-white South Africans, since colonisation but particularly since the advent of Apartheid in 1948, were violently and systematically oppressed by the white minority government. They were forcibly moved, subject to unequal and harmful laws, and were rarely afforded justice. Various resistance groups engaged in armed struggle against the state, most notably Umkhonto weSizwe, the armed wing of the ANC. The 80’s and 90’s saw a bubbling over of social unrest into civil society, with large scale, widespread violent protests and riots. The call to make the country “ungovernable” was one that reached all corners of the country. Violence as a political tool has long been part of the South Africa repertoire.

South Africa is often characterised as having a ‘culture’ of violence: people point to high crime rates, high rates of violence in crime, high rates of domestic abuse etc. South Africa has very high levels of acquaintance violence and other violent interactions in otherwise non-violent situations. The CSVR was contracted in 2007 to investigate the causes of structural justice in South Africa. The CSVR defines normalisation as a cultural situation where “violence is regarded as a viable and legitimate way of resolving problems and asserting or protecting one’s interests” (Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation,

2008).

The high levels of violence may also be said to contribute to a type of collective cumulative trauma. Many people have been exposed to violence in their domestic or community environments, have been victims of violence, or themselves have been involved in perpetrating acts of violence. The overall impact of this is that people feel overwhelmed by

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violence and resigned to its inevitability, and they find it difficult to remember or imagine a state of being that is not characterised by fear and violence. (Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, 2008, p. 171) We will return to the concept of collective trauma below.

For instance, children who grow up in families characterised by violence not only internalise the acceptability of violence, but are likely to internalise the verbal and emotional style of interaction that characterises these families. (Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, 2008, p. 188) This understanding is that violence is mimetic and “breeds more violence”. The severe exposure of South Africans to widespread and often excessive violence could lead to a naturalisation of violent response; it becomes culturally learned.

Why is the South African context so violent? The first answer is that many grew up in and lives through the unrest of the 1980s, and violence continues to be a culturally default mode of response. The second answer is that despite the advent of democracy, many even most people continue to be exposed to high levels of mental, physical and symbolic violence, and other means of recourse remain unavailable to them. The third answer is that the violence of the past has traumatised the South African society, which is now predisposed to violent response as a consequence.

Anatomy of a service delivery protest

“Service delivery protests” are instances of mass action by residents against local governments, usually in order to protest corruption and/or lack of services. The literature on these protests is varied in their levels of analysis and focus but I am inclined to follow Alexander (2010: 26) when he says, “[i]t appears that what we are attempting to grapple with is locally-organised protests that place demands on people who hold or benefit from political power (which includes, but is not limited to, local politicians). These have emanated from poorer neighbourhoods (shack settlements and townships rather than suburbs).”

Service delivery protests, while all naturally different, share similar patterns that allow us to distil a picture of what a typical protest would look like. I’ve built a generic description drawing on SWOP (2011), Alexander (2010) and Booysen (2007) to create an idea of a typical protest.

In an impoverished community, local government fails to deliver on specific promises, which causes residents and local leaders to come together to form a group and hold

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a mass meeting. Residents march to the seat of local government (usually a town council or municipality) to hand over a petition or memorandum. Local government fails to respond appropriately (for example, in Voortrekker the case presented by SWOP as the benchmark typical situation - the premier promised to meet protestors but instead sent an MEC at the last minute) and the situation dissolves into violence often including throwing stones, setting up barricades of burning tires and calls to make the town ‘ungovernable’, a familiar mantra from the era of anti-Apartheid unrest and violence. These protests also prominently feature the toyi-toyi, a South African form of protest also used extensively in the anti-Apartheid struggle, and the singing of struggle songs. As in the case of Voortrekker, violence often escalates:

houses are torched, protestors are hurt and sometimes killed by police counter action and protestors will even turn against other residents who not support the protest.

Alexander (2010: 26) discussed the variety of mechanisms used by protesting communities: “[t]hey have included mass meetings, drafting of memoranda, petitions, toyi- toying, processions, stay-aways, election boycotts, blockading of roads, construction of barricades, burning of tyres, looting, destruction of buildings, chasing unpopular individuals out of townships, confrontations with the police, and forced resignations of elected officials”.

SWOP writes in their report on xenophobic violence, which touches on service delivery protests as well:

“The case of Voortrekker illustrates many of the dynamics that are common across the case studies:

the repertoires of protest; the prominence of ANC figures, together with ordinary residents, among the organisers of protest; the intersection of divisions among ANC councillors in the local town council with popular grievances against the council; grievances including allegations of corruption, indifference and lack of service delivery; trigger moments when indifference on the part of authorities towards the grievances and peaceful protests of the community become palpable and publicly visible; appeals to authority beyond the local level; a turn to violence provoked or exacerbated by police violence; and an aftermath in which the balance of power within the local ANC is reconfigured, the protest leadership are reabsorbed into the ANC, and what had appeared to be local social movements or ‘ civil society’ organisations whither [sic] away.” (Society, Work & Development Institute (SWOP)

2011:9)

Service delivery is famously poor and the communities who do participate in service delivery protests are almost always impoverished and non-white. Service delivery problems can be anything from lack of water, lack of electricity, poor education services, local money being spent lavishly on politicians, utilities billing systems that don’t work, high crime rates,

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badly maintained roads etc. All of these protests are aimed at confronting local government about poor living conditions.

Service delivery protests are ultimately characterised by their goals. They are small, localised protests not necessarily violent, but usually so directed towards a form of local governance. These protests are usually triggered by a failure to delivery on specific promises or a specific (negative) change in governance, but fuelled by a long list of service delivery problems. Protestors almost always speak about corruption, accountability, human rights, democracy, and display a strong familiarity with the vocabulary of modern liberal democracy. These protests always take place within a democratic framework not to protest the democracy but to demand more democratic governance.

Angry young men

Interestingly, the composition of crowds tends to change with the trajectory of the protests (Alexander 2010, Booysen 2007, SWOP 2011). Working adults, older people and community leaders are prominently involved in the initial stages of the protests, but the overwhelming majority of violence is committed by young, unemployed black men. Von Holdt (2011) refers to this as “crowds within crowds”, recognising the shifting composition of protestors and the less-than-unified nature of the communities.

These young men find themselves at an intersection of race, gender and class. Those who are most active in the violent parts of service delivery protests are also the most vulnerable; they have little to no opportunities for advancement, are impoverished, and are characterised as violent and dangerous by society (SWOP 2011). Langa (2011: 69) considers that “[o]ne may argue that unemployed young males are a vulnerable group. Given their vulnerability, some may easily be incited by the political entrepreneurs to serve as ‘foot soldiers’ in return for food and alcohol. Belonging to a group of the protestors provides them a sense of belonging and worth about their self.”

Furthermore, as von Holdt (2011) points out, impoverished young men who are unable to provide for their families or unable to start a family, feel emasculated. Protest can allow them to reassert their masculinity through violence and by casting themselves in the role of community defender.

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Deep connections

Researchers such as Auyero (2010) and Berenschot (2009) have analysed collective violence by looking into the connections and networks between participants, third parties (such as local leaders, criminal bosses or political activists) and the state. Their research finds that strong connections between residents of poor areas and members of political parties and the way these connections are embedded in daily life and in relation to the state, give form to collective violence and allow it to take place. Furthermore, they find that rioting behaviour is not randomised but often directed towards specific ends. Berenschot (2009: 231) writes about riots as ‘maintaining relations’:

the linkages between the actors that organise and instigate riots are a product of the difficulties that citizens face when dealing with state institutions. The networks engaged in the organisation and instigation of violence are to a large extent also patronage networks who help citizens deal with state institutions. The daily functioning of these intermediary networks shapes the mobilisation and instigation that take place during communal riots: their role as intermediaries lends these various local actors the organisational capacity as well as the local authority to mobilise people for violence. Similarly the reasons of local actors to contribute to the violence can be understood in the light of the position of these actors within the patronage networks that mediate between state institutions and local inhabitants. Communal violence is an instrument within a larger game of developing support and gaining control over governmental resources: the pattern of the interdependencies generated by a daily mediation between state institutions and citizens gives local actors various incentives to contribute to the violence.

So the question that bookends this next section is: what are the connections and networks at play when service delivery protests turn violent? I will specifically look at police and at local political leaders (not members of the municipal or town governments that are being protested). How do they interact with residents during periods of high unrest? How do they contribute to collective violence in these situations?

Police play an ugly role in service delivery protests. Alexander (2010) and SWOP (2011) find that police are often slow to respond to the initial wave of violence, failing to stem it in most cases. On the other hand, when they do get involved, they often use disproportionate force, resulting in a much more violent response from protestors. This, combined with the general lack of trust in the police force (CSVR 2008)

SWOP (2011: 9), in a cross study of incidents of collective violence across the country, found that “there were variations in the composition of the protest organisers across

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the case studies, but a similarity in the leading role played by ANC figures in all of them”. N illustrate that the problematic relationships between state and citizens can take place at many levels at the level of local government (democracy) and at the level of the police (security and protection). The absence of the police and the negative presence of the police partly legitimises violent protest behaviour and positions citizens as combative against state institutions (SWOP 2011).

Protests are often lead by ANC members, local political leaders and sometimes the initial ‘concerned citizen’s group’ is formed entirely of a local ANC group such as a Youth League Branch (see SWOP (2011), Alexander (2010)). In towns where the political makeup is different (with an unusually strong presence of the IFP, PAC or SACP), the leaders of the protests are usually from dominant political party.

Leaders have diverse motivations for mobilising the protests, often opportunistic reasons of their own. Residents are usually well aware of this, prompting Langa (SWOP 2011: 11) to conclude that protests are “constructed through the agency of both the political entrepreneurs who use community members to fight their political battles, and the community members, who strategically use political entrepreneurs to present their grievances to relevant offices because of their understanding of local politics.” The relationship between the crowds and the leaders is complex and often changing (as is the composition of the crowds and the leaders themselves). Protests are often characterised as driven by political opportunism infighting in local party politics, perhaps, or an attempt to get into power in local government.

Where the South African case studies differ from the situations in Buenos Aires (Auyero 2010) and Gujarat (Berenschot 2009) is in the stability of the networks and their embedding in local society. Berenschot, in particular, details how the connections between politicians, goondas and residents are relations that are already strong, relations which are maintained through collective violence. In places such as Voortrekker, Kungcatsha, Azania, Galdysville and Trouble, however, these networks are tenuous at best and continually shifting. Langa (SWOP 2011) shows how protestors are well aware and distrusting of the political motivations of protest leaders (they are widely known as political entrepreneurs), and that often those who instigate the collective violence are not embedded within the communities. Rather, the picture is far more fragmented. Communities use political activists to create protests, and political activists use community protests to advance their own goals. Leaders often change during a period of unrest, and often protest leaders will not be elected

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after the violence in over. The composition of the crowds and their relations with political entrepreneurs can and do radically change as a protest develops.

Rather than being a site where relations are contained, service delivery protests seem to become sites of power struggle. In fact, in almost all the case studies available (SWOP 2011) protests intensified and became violent in periods of instability in networks: shifts in power relations within government and open conflict between political figures are typical. It appears that instead of maintaining relations, service delivery protests offer an opportunity to disrupt them.

Collective trauma

Collective trauma as theorised by Sztompka (1996) occurs when a group undergoes trauma as a collective independent of the sum of traumatised individuals within the group. Trauma can result in a number of tangible reactions: lack of social cohesion, dysfunctional social structures, social networks, formal organisations, class division and collective violence. This trauma can become an important part of the collective narrative of the group, transforming into a ‘chosen trauma’ as articulated by Volkan (1996) – when the trauma becomes a significant identity marker of the group.

Mogapi’s analysis of the trauma of Apartheid (2011) fits in well with Sztompka and Volkan’s work. She points out the traumatic violence of the Apartheid system as well as its long lasting effects, and she shows how the country cannot simply resolve this trauma and ‘move on’. Failure of communication between citizens and state and continued feelings of injustice and victimisation recall trauma; political leaders continually position themselves as liberators and struggle heroes; protests frequently use elements particular to the struggle against Apartheid (such as the toyi-toyi, the singing of struggle songs, and references to ANC heroes).

Mogapi identifies collective violence as an expression of collective trauma and an indicator that widespread collective violence can only be ‘solved’ by addressing and dealing with the wounds of the past. Violence in service delivery, then, is not solely a material action a demand for more services made urgent by the use of violence. It is also an emotional expression of trauma, a symptom of historical brutality and violence. This emotional element should not be overlooked: collective trauma adds another dimension to our analysis and deepens our understanding of these communities.

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The phantom state

Goldstein, in his discussion of security and rights in Bolivia, invokes Derrida’s “hauntology” to describe a phantom, or spectral, state. The state to those on the margins, appears absent and almost defined by its absence. The encounters they do have with the state are difficult and overriding negative: they do not have the time, money or skills to deal with processes that are complex, opaque and unfriendly. Their distrust of the state and state mechanics and the impossibility of engaging with them often forces them to remove themselves from the state entirely, to live chuto (illegally). This means they miss out on important benefits of being a citizen while still being subject to the power of the law and the consequences of living illegally. This is the phantom state: largely absent from the lives of people on the margins, but overwhelming in its influence. The true problem then is not the absence of the state but the limited, negative encounters people have with it. People are thus stuck between living outside of the state or trying to engage with a state they cannot access. This is spectrality: at once being and not-being, haunting the society it structures.

The “phantom state” as a concept is very interesting in studying South Africa, given the complex relationship of the state and the people. The Apartheid-state was actively hostile towards the majority of its citizens until 1994: for most, especially the most marginalised, the state was an entity defined by violence, oppression and struggle. The transition to a democratic state turned everything on its head.

Given the specific terminology here – the term “service delivery protests” is widely used and disseminated within the South African vocabulary the presence, absence and absent presence of the state is very important. Service delivery protests confront the state about its absence. The communities that protest are impoverished communities, inhabited by the most vulnerable and under-served people in the country. While triggers are usually local incidences of institutional ‘failure’, more and more protests are about national scale governmental responsibilities (Booysen 2009).

Service delivery protests are always articulated within a democratic vocabulary, and confront the state and state representatives on lack of services, lack of accountability and corruption (SWOP 2011). Furthermore, an important element of the issues articulated by protestors is not just the presence/absence of the state, but rather how the state performs its duties. Protestors often specifically complain about maintenance and management of services (Atkinson 2007).

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Pithouse (2007) finds that ‘‘there is a pervasive sense that the state disrespects people by lying to people at election times and by failing to listen to them at other times.” These citizens encounter the state in limited, negative ways. They do not protest or turn to violence because of the presence of the state, but because of its perceived absence. The emphasis on calling out corruption, on words such as ‘transparency’, ‘accountability’, and ‘rights’, shows that citizens have a specific conceptualisation of how a liberal democratic state act. Citizens demand action from their government and hold their representatives up to a democratic standard; the violence that occurs is part of a negotiation about democratic values and responsibilities.

Von Holdt (in SWOP 2011) characterises this focus as ‘insurgent citizenship’:

Insurgent citizenship in this context is defined by its claim for work and housing, for an improvement in municipal services, and to be heard and recognised. An end to corruption also features. The repertoires of protest resemble those that were used in the struggle for full citizenship rights against the racially closed citizenship defined by apartheid, and the protesters in post-apartheid South Africa explicitly claim the rights of democracy and citizenship, especially in relation to police violence against their protests:

“The Freedom Charter says people shall govern, but now we are not governing, we are being governed.”(Azania)

Moreover, South Africa is often characterised as a dominant party state. Since 1994, the ANC have received an overwhelming majority in every national election. Opposition parties, although recently somewhat stronger, remain very weak and without significant power in parliament there is also an incredible amount of frustration with the alternatives, the most prominent of which (the Democratic Alliance) appears to care little for the poor. The ANC, despite service delivery deficiencies, is still the party that most South Africans identify with and believe should be running the country.

Booysen (2007) finds that protests do not indicate alienation from the political system at all. In fact, her research finds that voting, buy-in to the political system and protests all comfortably coexist – what she calls the complex coexistence of the ‘ballot and the brick’:

The South African local electorate thus appears to believe that ‘voting helps and protest works’ when it comes to deciding on a repertoire of action to optimise service delivery in communities. In addition, the results indicate that communities continue believing that the ANC remains the party that is best equipped to take care of service delivery, or in general to advance transformation and help deliver

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more of the ‘better life for all’ – the theme of several preceding ANC election campaigns.(Booysen

2007: 31)

Booysen’s findings are that, given the loyalty of the electorate to the ANC and the lack of credible alternatives, protests become a democratic complement to voting. Protests are a way to hold local government accountable for their promises, to initiate changes in local government, and to communicate with national government 1 . Of particular importance is that “[i]n the communities where protest was chosen as a means to improve representation and delivery, there was evidence of a belief that protest could be part of these communities’ repertoire for directly engaging with their party, the ANC.” (idem)

There is no a single community studied where violent protest broke out without preceding peaceful attempts to communicate with the government representatives. The state is not absent but present without communication: violence appears as a last resort to catch the attention of local (or national) government. Even here, violence is used to bring the state closer to citizens, so that they can communicate and fulfil their democratic responsibilities.

Conclusions

The phenomenon of violent service delivery protests illustrates the complex coexistence of democracy and violence within South Africa. These protests explicitly hold government to the standards of a liberal democracy and invoke democratic vocabularies in their demands. The violence that springs from these protests, I argue, is not devolution or corruption of democratic action, but an extension of it. At the first level, violence as a ‘culture’ and as a legitimate tool for achieving political ends has long been embedded within South African civil society. Violence is part of the South African political repertoire.

At the second level, the most violent parts of the society are also the most vulnerable and the most traumatised: violence here, perpetrated by impoverished young men, becomes the only tool available to assert masculinity, strength and dignity.

Thirdly, networks and ‘crowds within crowds’ betray the uneasy relationship between state representatives, political figures and citizens. Rather than maintaining relationships, violence and unrest serve to challenge political configurations. Unrest is normally instigated by ‘political entrepreneurs’, but used by citizens to achieve material outcomes.

1 Given that parliamentarians are elected via party lists, national government representatives have no constituencies.

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Lastly and most importantly, violent protest is used as a means to influence government and hold the state accountable. In a context where there are little to no alternative options come election time for those who are the most vulnerable, directly confronting representatives in a mechanism for political engagement that comfortably coexists with democracy. A conception of South African civil society as ‘violently plural’ allows us to see the ways in which violent protests actually attempt to move the state closer to a more democratic relationship with its citizens.

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