South Africa

Ward 58 – Inside the DA’s local failed state (Part 2)

A WhatsApp of Discontent: Gatvol and viral on the city fringes

A WhatsApp of Discontent: Gatvol and viral on the city fringes

When they get gatvol, South African communities take to the streets: they close main arterial roads by putting rocks across them; they protest in toyi-toying lines across streets or, at the extreme edges, they burn buses or trains. In Ward 58, the community takes to WhatsApp, spreading their unhappiness and making it viral with photographs of a ward failed by the DA. Part of Johannesburg’s inner-city, Ward 58 is an example of how the party has failed many parts of City government, although the party’s manifesto for 2019 is built on its good governance stripes.

The Democratic Alliance is excellent at governing in suburbs, but the experience in the Johannesburg inner city and in an area like Ward 58 shows that it has not yet broken its traditional methods to make good in often poorer and black areas.

WhatsApp has become a vital tool of communication between the government and the governed. In Ward 58’s case, it is no different. Local councillor Alex Christians says he is on 70 WhatsApp groups to try to keep a grip on a difficult ward because it is big and failing on what the community assesses to be 11 different measurements of good governance.

Community members want him to consolidate all the groups into one, to establish his own centralised log group solely for logging ward issues, as there are fears that the range of WhatsApp groups is a divide-and-rule tactic as the councillor has said he will not respond to issues on these 70 groups and will only respond to “private messages” sent to him by residents.

The councillor calls meetings on some groups and not all; or advertises clean-up days on some and not all. This allows him [the councillor] to accuse community members of being “WhatsApp Warriors” if attendance numbers at meetings are low or if they do not attend.

The WhatsApp of Ward 58 is like a digital war as frustrated residents post evidence of calls logged, confront the councillor on his failure to assist residents with issues that they have escalated and that remain unresolved, or take photographs of a ward in extreme neglect.

Ward 58 is a mixed class and mixed race neighbourhood – it is significantly densified and, because it has a cosmopolitan feel and a progressive political history, it is also home to the largest range of foreign communities in Johannesburg and, possibly, South Africa.

A community-led media investigation in the governance of Ward 58 in the light of the DA’s election manifesto for 2019 including Mayfair, Fordsburg, Fietas and Brixton, 11 November 2018. PHOTO/MUJAHID SAFODIEN

Christians reckon there are 35 different nationalities living in Ward 58 but because the ward has not been well managed to ensure that building regulations, garbage collection and basic infrastructure have not been extended and maintained in the immigrant hub, the WhatsApps groups can seethe with resentment that could tip over into xenophobia.

Local and foreign property owners in Ward 58 have extended the slumlord problem of Hillbrow south into Ward 58 as they put dozens of people into houses built for small families. The areas were largely housing stock for railway workers or homes for poor whites in Fietas (Pageview or Vrededorp) after the Groups Areas Act dumped its residents in Lenasia and Eldorado Park.

The stress on infrastructure, illegal water and electricity connections has made Ward 58 an infrastructure time-bomb. And also a social time-bomb.

The traditionally Muslim suburb now has a big alcohol problem; often the muezzin’s call to prayer has to compete with the boom-boxes of the DJs of street bashes. While Christians were ostensibly deployed to the ward because of cultural synchronicity, he has not been able to mediate across interests. Neither has he been able to resolve issues of delivery and governance in the ward even while having his fingers on the pulse of 70 WhatsApp groups. Other DA councillors seem better equipped to deal with their communities through the same digital platforms.

Instead, the groups have become like a digital photo album of the grotesque and of a failed local state. The most common images are of dirt lying in piles, but the story of decayed infrastructure is told in these pictures. The WhatsApp groups of Ward 58 are like new digital forms of protest but they are also easy to ignore, unlike rocks on a highway.

A community-led media investigation in the governance of Ward 58 in the light of the DA’s election manifesto for 2019 including Mayfair, Fordsburg, Fietas and Brixton, 11 November 2018. PHOTO/MUJAHID SAFODIEN

There’s another strong message on the WhatsApp groups that may be more difficult to ignore: the communities are determined to vote the DA out after giving them a chance to govern a historically ANC stronghold when that party had also failed them.

Christians said he had hosted 20 voluntary clean-ups in the area since August 2016 and that the area had been blitzed on numerous occasions since he took over.

Abeda Bhamjee, a local resident and member of the ward committee, said:

The community contest these statistics, they also roll their eyes while pointing out that it is insufficient to pitch up for a brief clean-up and photo op and then ignore all your constituents during electricity, water and sewage crises and abdicate all your other responsibilities that other DA Councillors step up and attend to in their wards.” DM


Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted


This article is free to read.

Sign up for free or sign in to continue reading.

Unlike our competitors, we don’t force you to pay to read the news but we do need your email address to make your experience better.

Nearly there! Create a password to finish signing up with us:

Please enter your password or get a sign in link if you’ve forgotten

Open Sesame! Thanks for signing up.

We would like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick...

…but we are not going to force you to. Over 10 million users come to us each month for the news. We have not put it behind a paywall because the truth should not be a luxury.

Instead we ask our readers who can afford to contribute, even a small amount each month, to do so.

If you appreciate it and want to see us keep going then please consider contributing whatever you can.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

Daily Maverick Elections Toolbox

Feeling powerless in politics?

Equip yourself with the tools you need for an informed decision this election. Get the Elections Toolbox with shareable party manifesto guide.