Vuwani Protest: Blaming the victims & ignoring the causes

11 May 2016

Lufuno Norman Makungo

During apartheid there were many violent protests the government had to deal with. Where they lost the battle was when they chose not to address the cause but only to harshly deal with the protesters. Today the approach doesn’t seem any different with our democratic government, Marikana being one of those painful lessons.

The situation in Vuwani is not justifiable by any means. It’s a copy and paste of a similar situation that happened in Malamulele but unfortunately government still couldn’t prevent it. The longer the protest the more difficult it becomes to solve because criminals are quick to infiltrate and take advantage of the chaos where you could end up arresting peaceful protesters for the crimes committed by people with no interest on the objective of the protest.

The initial protest in Malamulele was not for demarcation but service delivery. Unfortunately nobody took the initiative to address the service delivery concerns until the community took to the street demanding their own municipality. That’s when the government took notice and finally submit to grant Malamulele its own municipality.

In other words the government decided to solve the service delivery issue with demarcation. This was a huge mistake that has now led to the situation in Vuwani and this community can’t be blamed for wanting to decide which municipality to belong to. A wrong precedent was set where instead of improving the lives of Malamulele people; government chose to grant them their own municipality and divide the community.

This solution was an acknowledgement that Thulamela Municipality was failing the people of Malamele but no one was held to account, instead a new problem was created where now everyone feels they can demand their own municipality. This is happening at the time the government is talking about reducing the number of municipality.

There are also tribalism concerns that the government has chosen to dismiss. But if the government doesn’t believe there’s tribalism and didn’t want to entertain the issue they shouldn’t have granted Malamulele its own municipality because that’s what further divided the community.

There is a battle of limited opportunities. The issue of demarcation is not just about service delivery but also access to job opportunities. This is the community where a government job is the difference between poverty and living a decent life. Government jobs are in high demand and at times the competition for them could be deadly even within one tribal group. When Malamulele was still under Thulamela the community complained that most government jobs were filled by Venda people, and they thought having their own municipality would give them an opportunity to occupy those jobs themselves.

All these issues are a direct outcome of poor leadership but large focus is now on the victims who are fighting for a better life. There has been a condemnation of Vuwani’s protest but almost none of government’s failure to prevent the situation.

Now we have a situation where the government of the people is going against the will of the people. The excuse is that the demarcation decision can only be reversed by the court of law but the decision to incorporate all the affected regions into one municipality was not taken by the court. We are back into being micro-managed by the courts instead of hiring competent leaders.

There’s a government trend of hiding behind the democratic principles when they fail to carry out their mandate to deliver services to the people. They want to choose how to be held accountable but Nelson Mandela couldn’t have put it any better when he said, “If the ANC does to you what the apartheid government did to you, then you must do to the ANC what you did to the apartheid government”. If we agree with this statement it means we are faced with the harsh reality and there could be more to come if we don’t take the necessary steps.

During apartheid protests the problem was not black people but the apartheid government. Even today, the problem is not the people of Vuwani and Malamulele but their leaders. The new municipality was never an ideal solution because it was more likely to divide Venda and Tsonga people, which it has so far. What people were demanding was quality service delivery.

Lufuno Norman Makungo is an advertising professional who grew up in Venda. He is familiar with the social struggle and challenges facing the majority of people in rural Venda. 

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