“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable “- John F. Kennedy.
The Kimberley shutdown proved to be exactly that; a shutdown of the city in an apparent attempt to reveal to the masses just how little the leaders they have put in place, think of them. But as John F. Kennedy says, “those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable”. The residents of Kimberley took a stand and reminded the leaders who put them on those pedestals.
Solomonstar sat down with one of the organisers of the Kimberley shutdown, Tebogo Obusitse “Pantsi” to look back on what transpired during the shutdown.
Tebogo Obusitse and Tumelo Mosikare blew the whistle on the Sol Plaatje Municipality’s plans to include a R260 flat fee for electricity in addition to the regular prepaid or monthly bills. Residents saw the tariff as nothing less than an insult. As one resident explained, “we have to pay to be able to pay for electricity, bearing in mind that the Northern Cape has a high rate of unemployment and most of its residents depend on social grants to survive”.
The first shut down took place in June. That saw many shops in the CBD and roads in Galeshewe closed as then Mayor, Mangaliso Matika refused to remove CFO, Lydia Mahloko who had approved the R260 tariff without discussing it with residents and the Municipality Manager, Goolam Akhawaray. Community leader, Tebogo Obusitse explains the strategy behind the shutdowns.
“The shutdown was planned in such a way that it must not find expression with everyone at that point in time up until it really happens, because once the likes of crime intelligence organisations find out, they’ll try to stop it”.
Even when the municipality allegedly hired a public relations company which billed Sol Plaatje R1 million to send out messages through social media and hand out pamphlets claiming the R260 had been scrapped, this was only done as a tactic to stop the protest. Tebogo says that’s when they came up with a backup plan to inform people that the strike was still continuing, “The day after the false information was spread, I woke up certain comrades in the wee hours of the morning to prepare themselves for the day’s hectic activities. At 3am we started closing all the national roads and those leading to town. By the time the police force woke up we had already occupied the streets for a few hours. When everyone realized that Kimberley was stationary as no one could go to town, school or work, the masses joined the strike .People started gathering at the circle while others walked from various areas to join the mass meeting at the circle as it was our designated meeting point”.
As the crowd gathered only then it snow balled on Tebogo what they had created was actually a mass strike. He kept wondering whether they would make it as this was their first strike. Members of Wanya Tsotsi played a major role as the marshals of the strike. Tebogo estimates that 16 000 people were part of the march when they entered town, he looked back and saw tons of people behind him and that stirred emotions within him.
“I couldn’t believe that we could be this peaceful with such a huge amount of people, it toiled heavily on me but the mere fact that we had a march with that many people and no fatalities made me teary”.
Provincial ANC and people outside of the Northern Cape applauded the leaders of the strike for having such a peaceful march as this showed that it is possible to make a statement and to do so without violence in South Africa. Though the peaceful march may have been a great example to the rest of the country, it seemed the impact was not felt by the people who in this case, mattered most; Sol Plaatje Municipality and the mayor.
“It seems that the only time government takes its people seriously is when properties are damaged and people are injured. The Marikana massacre is a great example, this however, is exactly what we tried to avoid in Kimberley,” Tebogo explained.
Their pleas were not heard in the first shutdown, so Kimberley residents and their community leaders increased their numbers and made sure that the next time around their presence would be felt by not just provincial, but national ANC. This was achieved as various media outlets came flocking to Kimberley to get a glimpse of the shutdown action. Once again residents marched to the Sol Plaatje Municipality with no fatalities until Matika seemed reluctant to address the people. When the community leaders went into a meeting with Matika, stun grenades hit off.
“While we were in discussion with Matika, we heard stun grenades going off and that’s when all hell broke loose”.
“That is when people started vandalising and looting shops in town as it appears the vandalism was triggered by some of the police”.
The second shutdown had intensified so much that those who were known as the leaders of the #ShutdownKimberley were ‘wanted’ by crime intelligence officers. Many blamed the community leaders for the vandalism and looting that took place, Tebogo’s mother was filled with concern after seeing on the news what was happening in Kimberley.
While in the process of hiding from intelligence, Tebogo received a phone call from a young couple asking for help as the woman was in labour but couldn’t get to the hospital nor could the paramedics get to her due to the roads being barricaded.
“Neo and I had to start opening the roads from Homestead up until the hospital for a young couple who was in labour, we tried our best to help each and every one who had to get to the hospital to avoid fatalities”.
When things started getting sticky for the municipality, it acknowledged that indeed the R260 existed and will be removed said Tebogo.
Obusitse calls himself an ANC member in good standing and was taught by the leading party that the first people they are to listen to are the masses on the ground.
“I am an ANC member in good standing and was taught to listen to the masses on the ground first because the ANC is a mass movement which listens to its people, but when there are arrogant people who deem making money more important than the actual community – then we are in danger”.
Tebogo therefore became an enemy of the ANC due to standing with and for the people.
People on the ground were planning to extend the strike to Phokwane and Dikgatlong as Barkley West had already joined the fight around the same time. He spoke to the secretary general of the ANC, Ace Magashule who informed him to give the provincial secretary Deshi a call.
Provincial leaders didn’t entertain the shutdown much, even at the provincial conference. It is said that when the issue was raised the ANC chairperson, Zamani Saul responded by saying no decision would be taken until the ANC ‘finds’ itself as there was an NEC meeting coming up in Nasrec.
During the strike certain councillors saw a an opportunity for them to become the next mayor and whilst Tebogo advised them not to even think of taking mayor ship, they took the idea and ran with it only to later be expelled by the leading party.
R260 implemented or not?
The R260 tariff was never implemented.
“Ours is not to tell the municipality what to do but rather to help it get its revenue while our people don’t suffer”.
The municipality wanted to adopt seasonal tariffs where in winter the residents would be charged R 2.55 and in summer R2.43. The community leaders informed them that they will go back to the streets should that come into effect.
The leaders and the municipality agreed on 2 blocks which would be simple for the people; they would be charged R 1.67 with an understanding that the block tariff will not be from 0-250kwh but from 0- 350kwh. It is said their shortfall would be R45 million instead of the initial R80 million.
“It is our responsibility as the community to pay our electricity so that indigent community members can be subsidised when they pay electricity. This would in turn assist with the growth of our municipality”.
As of the 1st of July 2019 the new tariff of R1.67 will be implemented.
The 106 report concerning the CFO and the municipal manager is still stagnant as the councillors avoided discussing it without the COGHSTA advocate who drew it being present.
The #kimberleyshutdown was a clear example of what can happen when the people take back their power. Not much needs to be said of the fact that all the people want is to be adequately looked after with the basic needs that government is responsible to provide. With the 6th administration, this could possibly be the time that the people experience governments support and understanding as to the urgency of basic services.