With water and electricity tariff hikes central to 3 different marches in 24 hours – why are they still separate?

Editorial by Roi Simpson (As heard on “the Lunchtime News Wrap” 12 April 2018)

Thursday morning sees NUMSA leading a march to Parliament – but that has broadened significantly with SAFTU joining them. At issue on this march is the proposed national minimum wage, and a slew of other labour law issues – including new legislation that’ll force workers to vote before they can go on strike.

It’s also about the handling of the water crisis at local level – and that sees the Water Crisis Coalition joining in.

This afternoon, at 15h00, CoSATU will picket Parliament: this time the focus is more on a range of more local issues: gangs, the City’s proposed budget – and the current leadership of the City (specifically JP Smith and Ian Neilson).

Tomorrow morning at 10h00, advocacy group, Stop CoCT is marching tomorrow against the City’s proposed electricity and water increases.

It’s worth noting that all of these include opposition to the City of Cape Town’s proposed budget – specifically the spike in water and electricity tariffs. So why isn’t there a united front?

That derives largely from who the organising entities are, and what their pedigree is.

SAFTU is Zwelinzima Vavi’s breakaway from CoSATU – largely built around NUMSA – hence the reason they and CoSATU will hold separate events today. The Water Crisis Coalition (WCC) – certainly to judge from its many press releases tends strongly toward the Trotskyist / Fourth Workers International philosophy. To decode that, they pretty much see themselves as aligned to the true interpretation of building a socialist utopia.

Which is where they run parallel to the SAFTU vision of its role in society. SAFTU sees CoSATU as too complacent and cosy with monopoly capital, and overly-embedded in a regime which pushes a capitalist, market-based economic agenda. So that’s why they’re so openly aligned.

But its also where they diverge from the Stop CoCT collective. Stop CoCT doesn’t per se have any problems with the privatisation and commodification of water – it’s a consumer action platform, so it’s purely about what impact the City’s drastic increases will have on ratepayers. So they and the WCC have an uncomfortable working relationship despite both pushing very similar agendas at this stage.

Stop CoCT, by the way, through the DearCapeTown.co.za website has already facilitated 19 000 email objections to the proposed increases. The imposition of minimum charges – especially the R150 just for access to electricity – is very problematic – not least because it dis-incentivises power saving.

And that brings us full circle back to NUMSA, and the possible disjunct with the Stop CoCT march – because don’t forget that just recently, NUMSA tried to torpedo the signing of Independent Power Producer deals with renewable resource power providers. Many of the DearCapeTown.co.za petitioners would have a definite problem with that, and would see renewable energy as highly desirable.

Even if you just skim through these divergences – which are heavily generalised, and only scratch the surface – it’s clear why there are these different voices and different initiatives.

But Cape Town’s local government must be alert to the parallels, and know that a coalescing of these currently disparate voices – much like the recent anti-Zuma protests – could be a reality soon. They will need to be aware of that, and will have to adapt their strategy and communications to that possibility if they want to avoid facing a united opposition.