The third force behind countrywide strikes is poverty

THE "third force" behind the community protests against poor service delivery, mismanagement and indifferent local authorities that is sweeping the country is poverty.

THE "third force" behind the community protests against poor service delivery, mismanagement and indifferent local authorities that is sweeping the country is poverty.

Blaming the third force, criminal elements, supporters of former president Thabo Mbeki and so on for the wave of service protests is irresponsible.

Under the Mbeki administration the preferred solution was to blame the third force, send in the police in a show of force, dispatch a few agents of the National Intelligence Agency and then arrest the "ringleaders".

To repeat the Mbeki approach would not only inflame grassroots passions even more, but would be patently dishonest when the new administration under President Jacob Zuma came to power precisely because it campaigned to end such strong-arm tactics, to be more pro-poor and to speed up service delivery.

The reality is also that many ANC leaders during and before the April elections irresponsibly whipped up expectations of immediate delivery - if only the Mbeki clique is pushed out.

The protesters are mostly ANC supporters, sympathisers and voters. They are protesting because democracy has failed them in many ways. It is more likely that many have already approached elected local representatives over slow service delivery, mismanagement and corruption, and were arrogantly rebuffed.

Others have most probably approached local branch leaders of the ANC to complain, but have found their complaints falling on stony ground.

Under such circumstances taking to the streets is often the last resort. This means that both the democratic institutions within the ANC and within broader society have failed them.

This must be fixed. It is going to be very difficult for the president to send senior ANC leaders to protesting communities to tell them to be patient. They have been patient for 15 years now.

It is also likely that any message to protesters that the global financial crisis will make it harder to create jobs, deliver houses and roll out social services faster will be rejected.

South Africa is in a recession but leaders splash out on cars worth R1,5million; drive around in large blue-light entourages with armies of bodyguards, drivers and assistants; and, for good measure, they regularly throw huge parties using taxpayers' money. This extravagance has enraged poor and long-suffering citizens.

President Jacob Zuma must call an emergency - as part of a broader rescue package to fight off the devastating effects of the recession - in the most depressed municipalities in the country. He then has to fire those who run the corrupt and mismanaged local governments.

Where possible the national government must take over these municipalities, for a restricted period, until capacity is restored.

The president must then nationally and internationally call for applications to all vacant jobs. He must personally make it a priority to oversee the appointment of only the best candidates.

The process should finally weed out any political, ethnic and jobs-for-pals appointments. The new appointees should sign performance contracts.

The recession has made it urgent that the president roll out a universal basic income grant to the poorest. Then he has to ban all ministers from buying expensive cars.

He must also cut down official blue-light entourages to one car and demand that those they escort on the road sit it out in snail's pace traffic like the rest of us. Then the president must ban all official government parties, junkets and lunches.

And the promises of Polokwane must also be made real now. Democratic ways of elections, decision and policy-making and participation within the ANC, from branch level upwards, must now be enforced. Poor black South Africans want the democratic and economic fruits of the post-apartheid dispensation - they deserve that, and it's long overdue.

lThe writer is the author of Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC