South Africa

SA's 6th Parliament

Protesters remind MPs of the impact of crime and state capture

A group of 27 civil society organisations, including the #UniteBehind coalition, protested outside Parliament in Cape Town while MPs were being sworn-in on 22 May 2019. Photo: Sandisiwe Shoba

Groups of protesters gathered outside the gates of parliament to highlight the consequences of crime and state capture – some of them holding a memorial for victims of state mismanagement and maladministration.

While MPs were sworn in for the sixth parliament during a ceremony at the National Assembly, a group of 50 people carrying red RTC (Reclaim the City) flags and black UB (Unite Behind) flags sang and danced around eight plastic bags wrapped as body bags with a sign that reads: “Remember those fallen.”

A group of 27 civil society organisations, including the #UniteBehind coalition, protested outside Parliament in Cape Town while MPs were being sworn-in on 22 May 2019. Photo: Aisha Abdool Karim

Unite Behind is a non-profit organisation and one of its campaigns #FixOurTrains seeks to see PRASA employees being held accountable for their mismanagement of the state-owned entity and for the trains to be safer and more efficient.

According to the Railway Safety Regulator 2016/17 report, 495 people lost their lives in the “South African railway environment while 2 079 were injured”.

When people shared their experiences on the trains, Ludine Warris from Ocean View said that she had “experienced many things” on the trains.

I’ve been robbed, been pickpocketed, (seen) people being thrown off the trains. People are losing their jobs because of Metrorail and it’s not fair,” said Warris.

In the beginning, there were people standing on the station with flags to indicate that trains are coming, so people knew the train was coming (and that) they had to move out of the way, but now there’s none of that. People stand with earphones, they can’t hear the train and that’s how accidents happen because there is no security to make them aware that the train is coming,” continued Warris.

A group of 27 civil society organisations, including the #UniteBehind coalition, protested outside Parliament in Cape Town while MPs were being sworn-in on 22 May 2019. Photo: Sandisiwe Shoba

Siyasanda Blayi who also used the train to get to work said: “If you use a train to get to work, you need to know that you’re going to wait for at least two hours”.

Unite Behind and its affiliates had a memorandum with varying demands. Sonke Gender Justice demanded that the National Strategic Plan on Gender-Based Violence be finalised and immediately implemented.

The Alternative Information and Development Centre demanded a massive climate jobs programme.

Right2Know demanded that those implicated in wrongdoing be investigated and charged accordingly and that ethical leaders are elected.

Unite Behind demanded that there be safe, reliable and affordable trains and that corruption at PRASA and other state-owned entities be rooted out.

We are here to show the government the cost of state capture, it cost people’s lives and that’s why we have the body bags,” said Amanda Ismail, Western Cape regional manager of Black Sash.

We’re here to say to the Police Minister and the Police Commissioner they must develop policing guidelines for informal settlements because the police claim they cannot patrol informal settlements because they don’t have enough resources,” said Sibusiso Mdlankomo, a community organiser from the Social Justice Coalition.

A group of 27 civil society organisations, including the #UniteBehind coalition, protested outside Parliament in Cape Town while MPs were being sworn-in on 22 May 2019. Photo: Aisha Abdool Karim

For us, these body bags symbolise the high rate of murders that are happening in this province, particularly in Langa,” Mdlankomo told Daily Maverick.

Reverend Alan Storey said: “Look at these body bags. When I arrived and saw these body bags, it punched me in my gut, it’s too real. I want to look away, but it’s important that we do not look away.

God said that there’s life and there’s death, therefore, choose life. This house (Parliament) is meant to be a house that chooses life and the way it chooses life is by making and implementing policies that protect vulnerable people in our country,” said Storey.

Another grouping of civil society organisations under the banner of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation also picketed outside Parliament to take a stand against corruption and state capture.

We are amplifying the call made by many that we need a cabinet of men and women with the highest levels of integrity,” said Neeshan Balton, the Executive Director of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation.

The peaceful protest unfolded as Members of Parliament drove into the precinct to attend the first sitting of the sixth Parliament. In total, 27 organisations were represented including the Black Sash, Corruption Watch, Section27, Parliamentary Monitoring Group, the Right2Know Campaign and My Vote Counts.

The collective handed over a memorandum of demands to Peter Lebeko, a representative for the Acting Secretary of Parliament, which included a call for Members of Parliament to put the interests of the people before “blind party loyalty” and a call for the prosecution and removal from public office of government officials found “responsible for wrong-doing”.

Balton was optimistic about the upcoming term of office, saying he hopes for “greater receptiveness” to major issues raised by civil society but the “key test” will be when cabinet ministers are selected.

A group of 27 civil society organisations, including the #UniteBehind coalition, protested outside Parliament in Cape Town while MPs were being sworn-in on 22 May 2019. Photo: Sandisiwe Shoba

He expressed relief at the withdrawal of Malusi Gigaba and Nomvula Mokonyane as MPs from the National Assembly, both of whom have been allegedly implicated in state capture.

Joel Bregman, the Director of My Vote Counts, a Non-Profit Organisation working to improve inclusivity, accountability and transparency in South Africa’s electoral systems and politics felt that government did not interact effectively enough with civic organisations.

There’s a torrent of issues that civil society deals with and there’s often engagement with parliament. The issue is often the substance of that engagement with parliament. It’s usually protest action and the act of ‘a memorandum was handed over’ like today, but whatever is written in that document, there isn’t any follow-through from [the civil society] side, but also from parliament side.”

He felt there was often a “broken link” between government and the ordinary person and there aren’t sufficient channels to rectify that divide.

You get to vote once every five years, and in between the act of voting, there aren’t enough active ways that citizens can engage and put pressure and have checks and balances on people in power,” he said.

The organisation’s work will afford people valuable knowledge on the political parties they choose to vote for in future,” he said.

I think people should know how a party is working internally. [Such as] do they have gender and other quotas to ensure that they have fair representation?”

The organisation was instrumental in lobbying for the Political Party Funding Act which, Bregman claims, will come into effect by the 2021 local elections. DM

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