“I just want to ask Ramaphosa how we must live as Alexandra residents because we are suffering,” Elizabeth Nkwana (61) said. Nkwana, a small business owner and staunch African National Congress (ANC) supporter, has lived in Alexandra township all her life. Along with hundreds of residents of Alexandra township, young and old, Nkwana flocked the Alexandra stadium to hear President Cyril Ramaphosa speak. Ramaphosa visited the township in response to the #AlexTotalShutdown protests in the township.
The historic Alexandra has been the site of protest for the past two weeks. The sprawling township lies just a few kilometers away from the glittering skyscrapers of Sandton, a telling tale of inequality in South Africa. Lack of housing and development, the erection of illegal structures, overcrowding, poor service delivery, and unemployment are among the issues that residents are protesting.
“The place is stinking, all over is rats, everything is dirty. It’s too packed, we are too much in Alexandra. We want them to fix Alexandra, we don’t want to fight,” Nkwana said in an interview with The Daily Vox.
While the atmosphere at the stadium was jovial with some ANC supporters dancing and singing along to “Thuma Mina”, there was an element of discontent among others. #AlexTotalShutdown organisers have urged residents to stay home from school and work and have been protesting in the streets since April 3. A week later, on April 8, residents even marched to Sandton to plead their plight.
In the meantime, politicians have been pointing fingers at each other about whose responsibility Alex is.
Alex: a political blame game
Since the beginning of the protest action, Alex residents have been calling on Mayor Herman Mashaba to address their concerns. But Mashaba said he would only visit the township on April 15, and has blamed the protests on the ANC.
The Democratic Alliance (DA), the party that Mashaba belongs to, has governed Johannesburg since 2016. However, opinion is split on whether Alex is a DA problem or an ANC problem, since the DA inherited the problems facing Alexandra three years ago.
In 2001, then-president Thabo Mbeki set aside launched the Alexandra Renewal Project for the redevelopment of Alexandra. The DA’s John Moodey said the R1.7 billion set aside for the operation was looted by corrupt ANC officials. The ANC’s Gauteng Premier David Makhura has dismissed claims that national government put billions of rands into the project. And said the Alexandra Renewal Project was funded by the City of Johannesburg and the provincial government. Mashaba has since launched a forensic investigation into the fund.
Speaking at an Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) presser on April 10, EFF leader Julius Malema also accused the ANC of igniting protests in Alexandra.
“Alex protest is an ANC protest. It is an ANC campaign strategy and it will backfire on them because it will spread into the municipalities that they are governing. Before they know it, this country will be on fire. There is no mess created by the DA in Alex. The DA found that mess there and they did not do anything about it, that’s the difference. Where is the money of Alexandra Renewal? Who is responsible to answer? Parks Tau and Alex Mafia,” Malema said.
“It’s all a political ploy,” Size Khumalo* (31) said. Khumalo is a taxi driver from Cosmo City, and a loyal supporter of the DA. “The ANC is using Alexandra citizens to try and win Gauteng back,” he said.
Khumalo said all South African townships look like Alex. “You tell me, what must they change? All townships in South Africa look like this. The problem in Alex is overcrowding. But you can’t stop people from coming here. Where must they go?”
Ramaphosa addresses Alexandra citizens
When President Ramaphosa addressed the Alex residents, he said the message of the Alex residents has reverberated throughout the country.
Addressing the crowd, he had come to the township because the mayor had failed to do so.“The mayor has said he is not going to come now, and I said let me wait so that the mayor who is responsible should come first,” he said.
The president also said he was shocked and disturbed by the state of Alex, and that concerns raised by #AlexTotalShutdown had been noted and would be prioritised. “The dirt and filth I have seen here is quite disturbing and I am saying we must remove the dirt from Alexandra. We must clean up Alexandra, Alexandra must be a clean place where our people can live,” he said.
Before addressing the crowd, Ramaphosa had gone door-to-door visiting residents. He said this visit was not about electioneering.
Alex residents lives are at a standstill as the shutdown rages on
Meanwhile school learners are suffering as #AlexTotalShutdown leaders continue urging residents not to go to work or school.
“The strike is killing us as Grade 12 learners,” Jaconia Motloutsi (19) said in an interview with The Daily Vox. “In May, I’m writing exams. How will I write my exam like this, when there’s a shutdown?” he said.
Motloutsi said while he doesn’t disagree with people about the strike, community leaders should think about the learners first because “the learners are the future of tomorrow”.