Gwede Mantashe: South Africa's optimism will survive these protests

We believe recent events reflect local issues, not a wider national agenda

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President Jacob Zuma has drawn a line under recent violent protests in South Africa, not least by appointing a tough police commissioner, Bheki Cele, with a strong track record of fighting crime. He has also placed fighting poverty and crime at the top of the political agenda and reaffirmed the right of citizens to engage in peaceful protest in pursuance of their grievances.

It is because of this renewed sense of hope and empowerment that expectations have risen countrywide since the elections in April, and it is why the annual wage negotiations and heightened public awareness of the need to make local government accountable to the people have escalated into what appears to be a countrywide protest.

People are angry about the lack of service delivery over the past 15 years and they have a right to be – in some areas. But we must not lose sight of the huge progress that has been made with the provisions of clean water, electricity and housing throughout the country. The ruling African National Congress (ANC) will not be diverted from its programme to improve the lives of the poor even in times of recession. And we will also be at the forefront of managing the inevitable tensions between rising expectations, which are necessary, and the constraints imposed on government by the current recession and lower growth rates which are beyond our control.

The ANC is very clear that we have a great deal more work to do to improve the social conditions of people in our country. Perceptions of corruption and favouritism regarding tenders and employment frequently underlie the grievances. Often they are seen as corruption even when practices have not infringed any laws.

We see recent protests as rooted in local issues rather than reflecting a national agenda. Some of the protests have occurred in areas where basic services have been delivered. The ANC not only understands the problem but also has put in place mechanisms to deal with grievances, including the tackling of corruption.

Legislation is being debated which would bar public servants from involvement in other business ventures. We have met with the residents in most of the affected areas. In some areas, new water and sewerage infrastructure can be implemented only by moving shack dwellers from land allocated for the projects. This leads to anxiety and in the instance of Diepsloot, a high-density community north of Johannesburg, has led to protests.

We are determined to redress the developmental backlog we have inherited. But it is a matter of planning and budgeting and cannot be haphazard or achieved overnight. Our reality in South Africa is that urbanisation and the settlement of job-seekers in the urban centres is often not respectful of well laid out plans.

The recent labour strikes are an annual occurrence in our democracy. The ANC respects the rights of workers to declare disputes with employers and to strike if there is a deadlock. But we condemn in the strongest possible terms the violence that has accompanied some of the action. On appointing the new police commissioner, President Zuma both condemned the violence and insisted that those guilty of looting, trashing of streets, damaging property and attacks on individuals be arrested and charged.

The President has clearly indicated his resolve to maintain South Africa's vibrant economy in his first 100 days in office. He has delivered on his commitment to maintain the economic policies which have served the country well over the past 15 years. At the same time he has committed government to a social agenda aimed at achieving social cohesion alongside economic stability.

We are also mindful of the responsibility on our shoulders as a socio-economic microcosm of the world: if countries like South Africa, India and Brazil cannot develop a more equitable and sustainable system then humanity and as a whole is in trouble.

The ANC-led government has over the past 15 years made significant progress in transforming our economy and our society since the first democratic elections in 1994. South Africa is a developing country with immense potential: we are a democracy and a nation of people determined to succeed.

The author is the secretary-general of the African National Congress and chairman of the South African Communist Party

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