The South African Federation of Trade Unions expresses its full support for the poor communities across the country who are rising in protest against poverty, unemployment, crime, drug dealing and gangsterism.
SAFTU since its inception has consistently warned that we are sitting a ticking time-bomb. Community protests have been increasing throughout 2018, and becoming more violent are facing attacks from police. They have become so frequent that almost every day they feature in traffic reports as roads are closed as a result of attempts to block roads as a way to draw attention to grievances.
The latest big protests by the #totalshutdown movement on the Cape Flats and protest in Westbury and Sophiatown in Johannesburg prove that the level of anger within communities is reaching new heights. Similar movements are mushrooming across the country, and are the inevitable consequence of one of the world’s highest rates of unemployment, deepening poverty and widening inequality.
These underlying problems are aggravated by particular local problems – the underfunding of education and health services, non-delivery of new houses, and especially the appalling levels of violent crime, gang warfare and drug dealing.
Hundreds of young people are becoming addicted to deadly drugs like nyaope and being recruited into gangs who terrorize communities and fight each other in the street, making residents virtual prisoners in their homes for fear of being caught in the crossfire.
There are also frequent allegations that some local police officers are have been bribed by drug dealers to take no action against them. In both the Cape and Westbury, residents have complained bitterly that police do nothing to arrest gang leaders and drug lords, but arrive in numbers to arrest peaceful protesters and attack them with tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets.
This criminal take-over of poor communities is a sign of a failed state – a total collapse of law and order, with devastating consequences for the residents.
It also provides further proof of the vast inequality in the quality people’s lives within South Africa. The rich residents of suburbs like Bishopscourt or Sandton can buy their way out of such problems, using private security companies and blocking off access to their streets with controlled barriers.
SAFTU condemns the view that the kind of violence and criminality is less of a problem when the victims are the poor and marginalized. On the contrary they suffer most, from the double misery of being poor, very often unemployed, living in slums and then in addition being terrorized and murdered by gangsters.
The federation welcomes Police Minister Cele’s visit to the communities in both Bonteheuwel and Westbury, where he listened to their complaints and promised to deal with them, including action against drug lords and an urgent investigation into community claims that police officers were on the payroll of criminals.
SAFTU demands that the minister fulfills these promises to take action, although so far residents say he has failed to so. Government must also equally urgently tackles the longer-term problems of the quality of life of the people in these, and all other communities of the poor and marginalised.
The Working-Class Summit on 24 July 2018 created a platform for workers to link up with community and civil society organisations, and forge a strong united mass movement of the poor majority of the country. The fight against rampant crime has to be a core component of the campaign.
Workers live in communities and are no less the victims of criminals and the social problems confronting the poor and unemployed workers. So they have to join the fight for a safer community for them and their families. In Cape Town this has already led to close collaboration between union and community members in the #totalshutdown campaign. This example must be followed in all areas.
The Steering Committee elected by the Summit is to meet shortly and should launch a campaign to demand that the poor receive the same level of safety, security and protection from crime and drugs as the rich. Resources must be immediately provided for these areas to ensure that the law is enforced and all the criminals and any rogue police officers are arrested.
At the same time everything must be done to also prioritise the improvement of the desperate living conditions of people in these deprived communities. They must be provided with proper houses, better and well-resourced schools and clinics, street lighting and everything else that is required for a decent life.
The lack of such basic services is the underlying reason for the crime wave, which is a brutal symptom of a grossly unequal and unjust society. That is why this campaign has to be linked to the fight for a fundamental change in the way which society is structured, through a democratic transfer of wealth and power from the tiny elite of mainly white monopoly capitalist billionaires and the creation of a socialist society in which wealth is shared and democratically managed by the working-class and communities, for the benefit of all the people.