2021 – The wrap

Protester at the "Working Class Day of Action" in Johannesburg in 2020. Photo by Ramatamo Sehoai

These are some of the stories we brought you in 2021. Expect more to follow in 2022.

The year has been difficult for everyone but for the black working class especially. Elitsha covered many stories of their plight, and how the pandemic made it worse.

Disability grant applicants queue from 1am

In January we covered a story of how grant beneficiaries defied the level 3 lockdown regulations to lead the queue outside the South African Social Security Agency offices in Khayelitsha of beneficiaries whose temporary disability grant lapsed in December 2020. They were putting themselves at risk of being fined for breaking the 21h00 to 05h00 curfew as they arrived as early as 01h00 in the morning.

Sassa clients queuing outside the grant agency office in Khayelitsha. Archive Photo by Lilita Gcwabe

Victory for farmers in India

We caught on to the mass protest by farmers in India calling for the repeal of three laws passed in September 2020 that removed price guarantees on agricultural produce and aimed to open farming to commercial interest. The protest started in November 2020 and after a year of intensified action, the Indian government last month withdrew the laws.

The All India Agricultural Workers’ Union, the farmers’ wing of the Communist Party of India, played a coordinating role in shaping more than 500 organisations into a national movement. Photo by Simran Mehan/Flickr

Police violently suppress budget protest

A protest march by the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) ahead of the budget speech by the former Minister of Finance, Tito Mboweni in parliament was met by police violence. Two of its leaders were arrested by “heavy handed” police.

Members of the POP unit arresting Saftu’s provincial secretary in Cape Town. Archive video by Lilita Gcwabe

Campaign against vaccine apartheid

In March activists under the banner of the People’s Vaccine Campaign protested outside the Cape Town offices of Johnson & Johnson calling for an end to “vaccine apartheid”. The campaign was demanding the relaxation of restrictions on technology transfer and knowledge sharing, and for corporations like J&J to free the license to produce Covid-19 vaccines. The PVC-SA was also demanding greater transparency in discussions between J&J and government about procuring its vaccine.

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The People’s Vaccine Campaign banner displayed high outside the Johnson & Johnson offices. Arhive photo by Lilita Gcwabe

MKMVA behind Durban pogrom

In Durban, xenophobia reared its ugly head and without check from authorities. The xenophobic pogrom started in December 2020 and the incident that Elitsha covered involved the petrol bombing and destruction of three stalls in what the victims described as violence sponsored by members of the uMkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association.

Informal traders congregated outside Diakonia centre looking for help from Lawyers for Human Rights and Refugee Social Services. Archive photo by Gaby Bikombo

Hearing on deadly Rheinmetall explosion

In April, we covered the public hearings on the 2018 explosion at the Rheinmetall munitions plant in Macassar in the Western Cape. The families of the eight workers who were killed told Elitsha that testimonies by workers at the arms factory made it clear to them that the company was responsible for the explosion.

Interview with Terry Crawford-Brown on the Rheinmetall Denel Munitions (RDM) inquiry by Workers’ World Media Productions.

After a string of protests, Swazi police unleashed violence and brutal force to snuff out a popular uprising. The killing of a student in May by police and the subsequent arrest of five student leaders did not put an end to the dissent.

#MswatiMustFall

In June the protests in eSwatini gained momentum as community activists, students, and the pro-democracy movement took to the streets against police brutality in Africa’s last absolute monarchy.

Police fire live ammunition and teargas at the memorial service of Thabani. the student killed by police.

Burning and looting in July

A community radio station in Alexandra township, north of Johannesburg, was not spared the looting and civil unrest that engulfed urban areas of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in July. The widespread unrest, that was also in defiance of lockdown rules, was sparked by the imprisonment of former president Zuma and left an untold trail of destruction as businesses and properties were laid to waste.

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Members of the SANDF guarding a shopping centre in Alexandra. Archive photo by Ramatamo Sehoai
Alex FM station manager, Takalane Nemangowe, appealed to the community to help in locating the equipment that was looted from community radio station, Alex FM. Archive photo by Ramatamo Sehoai

The Phoenix Massacre

During the July unrest, residents of the predominantly Indian town of Phoenix in KwaZulu-Natal set up roadblocks to “protect their community from the looters”. An investigation by Elitsha revealed that the roadblocks were always going to lead to confrontation with residents of nearby townships who rely on public services accessible only in the town. Thirty-six people were killed, most of them Black Africans, by these vigilantes.

Joyce Mabuja who was on her way to the clinic for asthma treatment was attacked in Phoenix. Produced by Mzi Velapi and edited by Sindile Gulwa

During hearings into the July unrest by the South African Human Rights Commission, survivors of the ‘Phoenix Massacre’ told the commission that they were attacked based on their skin colour.

Ntethelelo Mkhize was shot four times on 12 July in Phoenix. He cannot sleep without sedatives as the flashbacks of what happened to him and his friends plague his mind. Archive photo by Nokulunga Majola

Desperate for higher education

Drugs, alcohol, cohabitation and dating with the sole purpose of having a place to stay are some dark places students in higher education institutions find themselves in due to financial pressure. This is according to several students at tertiary institutions in East London who spoke to Elitsha. The gruesome murder of a university student by her boyfriend brought into the spotlight the dangers women from poor backgrounds are exposed to to get an education.

Financial pressure leads some students to make decisions that are not in their best interests. Archive photo by Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik

Eastern Cape municipalities milked by construction companies

Between October and November we carried a series of stories on how Eastern Cape municipalities continue to pay construction companies that charge exorbitant prices for sub-standard material and projects. The R15-million Lesseyton stadium in Enoch Mgijima Local Municipality, built by Thalami Civils, sparked outrage on social media and led us to similar projects in the province.

The construction company awarded a multi-million rand tender to build a sportsfield in Matatiele has left unfinished housing projects in this same town. Archive photo by Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik

Little relief for Covid grant recipients

As food prices soar, recipients of the Social Relief of Distress grant struggle to buy basic necessities. They are still thankful for the grant, known as Ama350, saying it is better than nothing, but those with large families and many responsibilities say the grant is not much help. The biggest item R350 can afford is a 12.5 kg bag of mealie meal which is well above R100 and the rest goes to eggs and cooking oil. Small items such as toiletries don’t even come to mind as most of the money goes to food.

Smangele Jansen shopping for her staple foods. Archive photo by Ramatamo Sehoai

Soweto electricity crisis

Residents of Diepkloof Zone 3 in Soweto have vowed to continue protesting against the electricity cuts by Eskom until the power utility sits down with them.

Debris from the protests against electricity disconnection in Diepkloof, Soweto. Archive photo by Chris Gilili

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