Cope LogoNot a day passes without a service delivery protest. These protests are happening everywhere in our country: rural areas, towns and cities.

The majority of municipalities are failing to deliver quality services. In many instances, infrastructure is either collapsing or has already collapsed.

The ruling party, in our view, messed-up local government. In many instances, it failed to maintain the infrastructure inherited from the apartheid government. Its biggest mistake was to get rid of very experienced and highly qualified engineers and managers. The cadres who took over were in many cases clueless. Even so, the ruling party did not implement measures over a long period to demand qualification and performance. Now it is desperate to do so.

The ruling party is reaping what it sowed. As the 2016 Local Government Elections draw nearer, protests will increase by the day. They will also become more violent. Minister Gordhan is himself very frustrated. He wants councillors and mayors visible and distributing information to residents in the wards. Instead of rolling up their sleeves and walking faster, as he is urging, public representatives are still largely invisible and totally apathetic.

Shiceka’s turnaround strategy of 2009 came to nothing. We now have Gordhan’s back to basics campaign. The ruling party now wants municipalities to fire improperly appointed staff and to manage finances, which are under severe strain.

Where indeed are the public representatives? Why is government using the police service in a political role? The people want to see their political representatives and not the police. They want solutions, not suppression. The duty of the police is to fight crime and keep law and order. They come in as the last resort after all political negotiations fail. They have a role at the point where life and property are in danger.

This government must consider the repercussion of turning our police into the enemies of the people. Many police live in the townships where these protests occur and they too suffer the very same deprivation. How can they pretend that they are not affected and not sympathetic to the protests?

It is totally immoral and wrong to use the police as a buffer between government and the people. The very appearance of the police raises tension and unleashes violence.

The government must recognise that police suffer psychological strain in quelling political protests. Political problems must have politicians resolving them. Stressing our police, in this way, is wrong.

Cope calls on President Zuma to rescue this situation. He must demand that public representatives go out and meet protesters and to address their grievances.

Ministers, mayors, councillors, premiers and provincial as well as national MPs must walk the streets of the townships to see for themselves the uncollected trash, overflowing sewage, open drains, neglected roads, failing infrastructure, lack of facilities and the serial neglect, which people have suffered for years. All of these impugn the dignity of the people who had voted for them. They must search their consciences and honour their promises.

We urge the President not to use the police where politicians must deal with problems. The police service must police crime, not protests. Only politicians can prevent protests, not the police.

Issued by Dennis Bloem on behalf of COPE, Dennis Bloem is COPE’s national spokesperson

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