It is difficult to avoid an abiding suspicion that the protesters flinging faeces in the general direction of the DA led Cape Town and Western Cape provincial administrations are not always, as they claim, signed up members of the downtrodden masses.
Among the reasons I am suspicious is a good friend told me that when the recent group of 176 protesters carrying bags of shit – let’s call it what it is – were offloaded at Esplanade train station in Woodstock she couldn’t help but notice the pitter-patter of Carvella clad feet, the swish of Gucci handbags (in the hands not carrying the shit …. hmm, whatever) and the sleekly clad and buxom bodies diagnostic of a certain species of yuppie political activist.
A more interesting take, one that doesn’t bother with the relatively minor question of political parties’ attempts to manipulate or ride the underlying grievances of the poorest and most marginalised South Africans, is an excellent article by Gillian Schutte on The South African Civil Society Information Service website (SACSIS describes it’s function as: “
Though ‘shitting’ has to be one of the most taboo subjects around, it is a matter that we all deal with, on average once or twice a day. Defecation, and the rules governing it, undoubtedly comprises the complete gamut of human behaviour yet open discussion around it is deemed distasteful and disgusting. Indeed this is exactly how it played out when protesters dumped the contents of portable toilets on the steps of the Western Cape legislature in a backlash against the sanitation policy of Helen Zille’s administration. This policy offers communal portable flush toilets to shack dwellers at no cost — a system, which they say, is inadequate and often ends up filthy and untended.
Catch Schutte’s article here and I would recommend that you subscribe to the free SACSIS.org.za email service.
That being said, spare a thought for the put-upon DA premier Helen Zille and Cape Town mayor Patricia De Lille.
I stumbled across a thorough report from the Presidency (Department of Performance, Monitoring and Evaluation) into the state of sanitation services across the country. The report (download it here) makes a detailed comparison between provinces. I laboriously screen-snipped the graphs for provincial performances in informal housing areas and put them together in a graphic (which is a stretch for me, so I hope someone finds this useful).
This is what the scoreboard looks like:
(When you look at relative performance in formal areas the Western Cape also performs well, bested only by Gauteng – although, I suppose, it is not useful to run this like it was a competition. The ANC has faced rolling service delivery protests across the country for many years and the tit-for-tat between the DA and the ANC with regard to the toilet issue has almost nothing to do with ‘the facts’ or ‘the truth’.)
However the graphic does confirm that the DA has outperformed in relation to a crucial area of service delivery to informal areas – the very areas from which it is getting flack in Cape Town. And that raises an interesting point about the stability of societies as they move away from authoritarian rule and high levels of absolute and relative poverty.
There is a peculiar fact, confirmed across the world and over a long period of time, that improved service delivery itself is a good predictor of protest and disaffection.
I have an instinctive feeling of why this might be true. The uniformly downtrodden, those with no hope and no expectation of relief from ‘the powers that be’ are less likely to be moved to demand more.
Interestingly this is precisely the situation predicted by US sociologist working in the late 1950′s, James C Davies. His theory is that rising expectations are related to the possibility revolt but only when rising expectations – brought about by, for example, some degree of service delivery – meet an unexpected slowing in that delivery. His theory became known as the Davies J-curve.
Here is the point expressed graphically:
So the theory is that as a middle-class emerges from previously marginalised groups, as education and social infrastructure improves, the expectation of improvement begins to outstrip the maximum rate, or the sustainable rate, of real improvement. The first thing that happens is that resistance and dissatisfaction intensifies.
This is one of the many reasons transitions like ours can be scary and unstable. The old ways of doing things and the old, essentially stable, structure is abandoned before what is replacing it has moved in and filled the vacuum and the available space.
We are in the moment when ‘the old’ is gone but ‘the new is not yet born’.