Don Makatile

Don Makatile

Faced with the spectre of an integrated public transport system in their city, what do taxi drivers in Cape Town do?

They threaten to cause trouble on provincial election day in April, according to media reports.

Given the legend around their collective character, you'd trust taxi drivers to be so overly gung-ho in their approach to matters better resolved in round-table discussions.

It is no wonder that the city fathers, in the person of Mayor Helen Zille, quickly moved to put the taxi men - affiliated to the National Taxi Alliance (NTA) - in their place. Zille threatened to call in the army to deal with the insurgence.

But other lobby groups have used the poll, with varying successes, to make representations to government. But the tactic has worked when the interest groups threatened not to participate in the elections, not to disrupt them as the bright sparks in the NTA chose.

After Khutsong had vowed not to vote in the April 22 election as a sign to protest their dissatisfaction at being shunted off to North West, it has become the fashion of the day for communities to peg their demands to participation in the elections.

"We will not vote" became the mantra of the town as Khutsong vowed not to participate until they were reincorporated into Gauteng, whose economy they claim to have helped build.

Tomorrow President Kgalema Motlanthe will officially sign Khutsong back into Gauteng.

Community leader Jomo Mogale says they were not bluffing when they threatened to boycott the polls. "We didn't vote in the local government elections (of 2004)."

Had their demands not been met, April 22 would have been just another day in Khutsong, says Mogale.

"We're going to vote" is now the new tune Mogale and the community are singing, "and we're going to vote ANC".

Yesterday the Constitutional Court decision to determine the bothersome demarcation matter of Moutse was postponed - yet again - to May 21.

Political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi says it's not surprising Khutsong got their way ahead of Moutse.

The ruling ANC is aware of the effect of numbers, says Matshiqi, but they are wary to send out the message that united communities stand a much better chance of being heard than fragmented ones: "It could expose them to resistance."

Lenasia South, says Matshiqi, is an example of such unsustained campaigns, but he warns politicians to take cold comfort at such inaction as these communities might, in future, rise up in protest.

According to SABC news, which reported on the gathering earlier in the week, about 60000 residents of Ba-ga-Mothibi were threatening to boycott next month's elections. Their gripe? They are demanding that the government reincorporate their area into the Northern Cape, says the SABC report.

Provincial and Local Government Minister Sicelo Shiceka, part of the post-Polokwane ANC leadership that Mogale in Khutsong says is more approachable than "abo-Terror" (former defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota, now with Cope) was in Ga-Mothibi.

Shiceka did not disappoint, prompting a community spokesperson to echo Mogale: "We are going to vote for the ANC."

Buoyed by how the government had acceded to demands by Khutsong about demarcation, many communities saddled with the ogre of non-delivery of services have also used their X as a bargaining tool, with varying outcomes.

While there's a view that the electorate often falls victim to politicians who only remember them at election time, increasingly there's proof that communities are aware of the power of their votes. This prompts the question: Shouldn't communities bide their time and make their demands around elections as they are most likely to be heard?

Political analyst Susan Booysen points to 2006 and says protests peek around elections. Communities know that "this is the time when politicians listen best".

Booysen says communities struggle to get service delivery and in some cases have seemed to wait, in the phrase of some politician, until Jesus comes. While they may have been relatively patient, Booysen says: "They know the best time to get promises is before elections."

She quotes Kallie Kriel from Afriforum who said in a radio interview that "a promise is better than nothing".

While he credits Khutsong for their oneness, Matshiqi says many dynamics attach themselves to Merafong. Prominent among these is that Khutsong was in the middle of the Zuma-Mbeki camp tiff. "The Zuma camp moved swiftly to project themselves as more attentive to people's concerns than the Mbeki group," says Matshiqi.

While Mbeki discarded the 39000 votes at stake in Khutsong as negligible, Zuma appreciated their worth.