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Cleaning up and restoring pride in Eldorado Park, but structural change still needed


Ismail Lagardien is a writer, columnist and political economist with extensive exposure and experience in global political economic affairs. He was educated at the London School of Economics, and holds a PhD in International Political Economy.

Things changed in my hometown of Eldorado Park after 1994 when there was improved political voice. But a decade or so after the first election, rubbish started piling up and the delivery of public goods and services became unstable and unreliable.

I spent some time over the past week looking at the political formations, associations and social and public efforts in my hometown, Eldorado Park. I looked, specifically, at the way that the Patriotic Alliance (PA) on the ground was bringing people together across the community, and focusing on restoring “pride”.

They seem to be driven, in part, by the reality that on a national level, the coloured community has been neglected (see here and here). It is at this local level, within townships like Eldorado Park, where the PA wants to make a difference. There are some long-term structural problems with its approach which is out of its hands, in a manner of speaking, and to which we will return below.

A flyer circulating in Eldorado Park last week called for people to gather at my old school, Parkdale Primary. The flyer read: “Starts 8:00 am Sharp. “Bring your garden tools, water and sunhat. Let’s put pride back into our community.”

Two hashtags, one of which is the almost de rigueur war-talk that populist movements throw about to whip up emotions; “War #weareready”. The other one is promising, progressive and well-meaning; #restore.

On the face of things, these messages of pride and restoration have less to do with the political ideologies of conservatism with which it is traditionally associated. 

Historically, national pride and restoration (returning to greatness) are the call signs of right-wing politics. 

Consider Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again,” the restoration of national pride that Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler identified as an important objective, and more recently, Victor Orban, who tapped into national pride with measurable success.

While there is no moral equivalence between the PA campaign and that of Zackie Achmat – it’s unfair to (even) mention them in the same sentence – both formations seem to come alive, as it were, when they work within local communities on local issues.

Ideologically, the PA leader Gayton McKenzie is right-wing and as provincial (unsophisticated) as Julius Malema, without the crassness, name-calling and vulgarity.

Achmat is left-wing, a social democrat with large doses of humility and about four decades of dedication to community welfare. This makes Malema and McKenzie the cynosure of yesterday’s arrivals. 

So, at the macro/ideational level, McKenzie and Achmat have almost nothing in common, save for their commitment to community activism.

The Eldorado Park campaign is also significant because it is in this township where activists like Tessa Dooms, author of the book Coloured, which she described as a “Coloured 101” text, and who is associated with Rise Mzansi, seems to be corralling coloured support for Songezo Zibi’s political party.

Rise Mzansi appears to have a lot more money than the PA. It is, also, fair to say that Rise Mzansi has identified the professional (liberal capitalist) class, and less so “grassroots” movements in the coloured townships.

Zibi appeals especially to disaffected liberals who have traditionally voted for the Democratic Alliance and their predecessors, and to more urbane former ANC members and leaders.

Two important things stand out from the PA’s efforts in places like Eldorado Park. One is, actually, the sense of abandonment and the second is that the ANC and DA cannot be trusted, albeit for different reasons.

The other small party that has a presence in coloured townships is the Islamic party, Al Jama-ah, which is ineffectual, and too wedded to austere Wahhabist political Islam. They are much too narrow in their focus and, it’s safe to say, their first order of priority is to stand up for the religious beliefs, values and aspirations of Muslim voters, a majority of whom are in the coloured townships.

It is in these townships, especially places like Eldorado Park, where the PA is much more active, and apparently has greater appeal than other parties. 

The ANC, the DA and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) will battle for votes in the coloured community. Neither the ANC nor the EFF will focus on “the neglected” where “the neglected” are considered to be not “pure” African. 

The ANC and EFF have made that perfectly clear and the DA has simply run out of ideas.

If the DA did not receive large amounts of money to take its “brand” to a very select group of voters, it would simply disappear.

The PA’s clean-up project in Eldorado Park reminds me of the way that black leaders took pride in communities; there were, during the 1980s, in particular, very many clean-up projects and naïve idealistic murals on façades of townships.

On the corners of the streets, small gardens were created with colourfully painted bricks. There was a sense, then, that we should be proud of our communities because the municipal services were inadequate. When we first moved into Eldorado Park there was no street lighting or stormwater drains. We learned to live with it, but never stopped fighting for a better life for all.

Things changed after 1994 when there was improved political voice and South Africa is a better place for it, but a decade or so after the first election, rubbish started piling up and the delivery of public goods and services became unstable and unreliable. 

Our residential areas became increasingly dangerous. The hope and idealism that spurred us on during the apartheid era – we always knew that better times and Nelson Mandela would come – died sometime during the presidency of Thabo Mbeki. 

There was nothing left by the time Jacob Zuma arrived.

That was when community leaders saw the dangerous decline in places like Eldorado Park where better times remained elusive.

What became clear by the end of the Zuma years, and remains quite dire in the Cyril Ramaphosa era, is that the community has to take care of itself.

We went from the hope that better days would come to disappointment that there was no significant change after 1994 and to disillusionment and a type of nihilism.

It was into this state of affairs that McKenzie stepped. He is, to put it mildly, not the most liberal of people.

His crude right-wing politics and xenophobia seemed to attract people who believe, right or wrong may they be, that Africans from abroad and “real Africans” at home were getting a greater share of the peace dividend. 

All of this notwithstanding, Eldorado Park denizen Juwairiya Kaldine, who is Ward 18 Councillor and Section 79 Development Planning Chairperson in the City of Johannesburg, along with her local colleagues and assistants, are leading the reinvigoration of my old hometown.

While this project may get immediate gains, and help the PA with votes in May’s election, there is too great an emphasis on “problem-solving” in the immediate.

I should explain. If, say, you are a teacher and you go (every day) to the playground during breaks to stop boys from fighting, you may be “solving the problem” and gain praise for stopping the schoolyard fights every day.

If, however, you focus on some of the possible structural causes of schoolyard brawls – poverty, inequality, dysfunction at home, exhaustion and frustration, inadequate facilities, poor instruction, mentoring and guidance by teachers who work for only two days a week (Monday they arrive late, Wednesday they’re busy with union work, or running their taxi service and tuck shop, as “a side hustle,” and Friday they leave early to attend “a funeral”) – you may effect lasting change and social transformation, and ensure much better education, to be sure.

And so, the clean-up of Eldorado Park, the reinvigoration of community spirit, led for better or for worse by the PA, is necessary but insufficient. It may get votes at the next election, but the real work, the more structural changes, should happen after the election.

Admirable as Kaldine’s efforts are, one can only hope that there is measurable progress after May. The odds are stacked against significant structural change. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Karl Sittlinger says:

    “If the DA did not receive large amounts of money to take its “brand” to a very select group of voters, it would simply disappear.”

    Absolutely twaddle.

  • Geoff Coles says:

    The PA leaders have a disturbing background of crime and corruption

  • John Patson says:

    Alternative of course, is for people who leave rubbish in public places to be prosecuted.
    But that is too liberal an idea. (In the usual sense of the word, not the American one…)

  • John Cartwright says:

    Excellent insights from ‘the ground’ – contrast between dealing with the symptoms and investigating the root causes.

  • Mahomed Latiff says:

    In this two or three horse race, it is refreshing to get a different community perspective from those that are marginalised. Thank you. I don’t agree with everything you say but then again I have not walked Eldorado Park.

    • Kanu Sukha says:

      At least you have the decency to acknowledge the ‘gaps’ in your information … unlike the Sittlinger et al ‘shoot from the hips’ attitude !

    • Ismail Lagardien says:

      Thanks you Mahomed. I don’t care for “coloured politics” or any race-based politics. I especially loathe xenophobia and criminals or gangsters in politics.

  • Annie Conway says:

    Perhaps if we focussed less on what political parties can do for us. Where the loudest voice that actually has nothing but a loud voice, gets voted in. Let us focus more on doing things for ourselves. We would be better off in the long run. In my 71 years I’ve yet to meet a politician who is not in politics for what he or she can get out of it. Gayton may be doing good in the coloured communities, but elsewhere he’s just a loud mouth rabble rouser.

  • Philip Wernberg says:

    There is only one Municipality buying this power from private individuals, those communities in poorer areas do not have the means to install solar so will always be dependent on the government/municipality. Making Eldorado Park safe and clean we need to vote for the party that can and is doing this at the moment.
    Private installed solar (of 5,2GW) is now larger than any coal power station in SA (Medupi/Kusile at 4,8GW).

    — Michael Jordaan (@MichaelJordaan) February 27, 2024

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