In a week of running battles between the police and Gauteng residents, violent clashes are escalating, leaving many people injured and communities in fear of their lives.
At the centre of the upheaval is the ongoing demand for the delivery of decent housing.
The protests that started in the south of Johannesburg rapidly spread to Tshwane.
History tells us that the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better. Residents are looking for political leadership and for government to fulfil its promises to deliver quality housing.
These violent demonstrations could be seen as a baptism of fire for the Democratic Alliance, which took over the administration of both the Joburg and Tshwane metropolitan municipalities after the local government elections last August.
And while the party is inheriting a dismal housing allocation programme riddled with corruption and maladministration, its leaders are lacking in sophistication in dealing with the many legitimate complaints of the protesting residents.
But Joburg City mayor Herman Mashaba recently said he had not promised anyone houses. This is not the sort of response that inspires confidence.
He is in no position to distance himself from government’s obligation to provide housing, whether he promised to deliver it or not.
The Gauteng human settlements department led by provincial ANC chairperson Paul Mashatile is equally culpable, given that his party governs the province based on a basket of offerings made to the electorate during the 2014 general election – free quality housing being among them. It is therefore unacceptable that politicians are constantly caught flat-footed by service delivery protests, most of which inevitably turn violent.
Communities rarely just wake up one morning and collectively decide to violently demand decent services. Residents have been unambiguous in their calls.
They want meaningful conversations with their leaders.
Yet people constantly see politicians failing to use their constituency offices to adequately communicate, inform and engage with communities about government’s basic service delivery plans.
When people have no one to turn to, they turn on the people they have entrusted to lead them. We have a reactive government that seems to rely on law enforcement for a quick fix to a political problem. It is obvious that this strategy is unsustainable and will only make a volatile situation even worse.
Mashaba, City of Tshwane mayor Solly Msimanga and the Gauteng government should get their act together and come up with a comprehensive community engagement plan, making it clear how they intend to clear the housing waiting lists and reduce the backlog.
As the provincial and local administrations, they owe it to Gauteng residents to speak in one voice and get down to the business of serving the communities so desperately in need of the basic services they are entitled to.