Alexandra was shutdown by protestors on Wednesday demanding that the deterioration of the township be stopped.
The organisers of #AlexTotalShutDown march have denied that the protests are anti-poor and that it has a potential to turn into xenophobic violence. The organisers said were alert to any xenophobic tendencies and looting of spaza shops. In an interview with Elitsha, they said that when they took their grievances to the streets of Alexandra on the 3rd of April 2019, their only mission was to send a strong signal to the mayor of Johannesburg, Herman Mashaba, about their long overdue service delivery problems, ranging from by-law enforcement, the mushrooming of illegal structures, land invasion and refuse removal.
Alexandra was the epicentre of the xenophobic pogrom in 2008. In 2015, the murder of Mozambican national, Emmanuel Sithole was captured by news photographer, James Oatway, in the township.
“We led a very peaceful march, we were highly disciplined and ensured there was no looting of shops and attacks on foreign nationals. This fight is about the provision of basic services and is directed to the City of Johannesburg, no one else,” said Sandile Mavundla, one of the action’s leaders. He further added that should the mayor not come to address them, they will have no choice but to continue with their shutdown which saw major roads in and out Alexandra being closed, inconveniencing workers, schools and businesses in the township.
The organisers also expressed concern that the shortage of land and shelter has forced people to erect shacks under electricity transmission lines which are dangerous and carry a lethal voltage.
Thandiwe Mthombeni, another strike leader, remembered the recent incident in Stjwetla informal settlement where an electricity pylon razed hundreds of shacks to the ground and left residents homeless. “These are things we want our mayor to come and intervene. We cannot wait to have a disaster before we act,” she said.
When the African National Congress councillors who are in the majority in Alexandra were seen joining and supporting the march, executive mayor Mashaba who belongs to the Democratic Alliance, released a statement lashing them for hijacking residents’ genuine concerns for cheap political gains. He pointed out that he has only been in power in the City for two and a half years and achieved a lot while the ANC which had over two decades running the City failed to change the face of Alex.
“I deeply sympathise with the challenges the community of Alexandra is facing, and the multi-party government has invested heavily in service delivery in this community. This stands in stark contrast to the years of neglect that the people of Alexandra endured under the ANC government in Johannesburg.
“It is deeply ironic that the ANC have now used the legitimate grievances of Alexandra for their narrow political ends, inciting the crowd and creating further unrest. The people of Alex have continually been let down by the previous ANC administration in the provision of housing and addressing migration into the community,” Mashaba said in a statement.
Defending their participation in the march, ANC councillors say they too are residents of Alexandra and directly affected by the challenges in the community. “The stench of uncollected refuse affects us, the potholes you see on the roads affects us. We cannot divorce ourselves from these challenges because we are the ANC councillors and shifting the blame won’t take us anywhere,” said Councillor Adolf Marema.
Jackie Malahlela, a young man who recently occupied vacant land together with other residents said he grew up in a one-room family house and there was no privacy. “Yes our actions might be illegal but this was the only choice available, and also getting a shelter is part of service delivery,” he said.
“While I support and sympathise with the locals on their demands from their government, I fear that often such strikes attract opportunists and criminal elements towards foreigners and spaza shops. I hope law enforcers will be on the lookout for that,” noted Gladwell Mncube from Zimbabwe. The strike is expected to continue on Monday, 8t April 2019.