The Crisis Committee, post apartheid protest and political mobilisation in Phomolong Township, Free State.

08 January 2014

Often depicted in images of violence, burning tyres, destruction of property and looting of private businesses, service delivery protests have captured the imagination of many scholars interested in South Africa’s post apartheid politics. There are two main approaches to the study of service delivery protests. On the one hand are studies that argue that service delivery protests directly spring from an economic reality that privileges the market as a provider of services. The strength of this analysis is that it draws an important link between neoliberal capitulation and the rise of protest and mobilisation in post apartheid South Africa. The limitation in this analysis is that it pays scant attention to local associational politics. On the other hand is an approach that locates its analysis in the institutional design of post apartheid local government. Although offering a competent analysis of the grievances in service delivery protests, this analysis lacks a historical approach in studying local protest. Furthermore, this approach seldom illuminates the social composition and organisational character of the movements at the centre of these protests. Based on extensive life history interviews, this study examines the 2005 service delivery protests in Phomolong - a township in the northern Free State. With a grounded analysis on the Crisis Committee, which was the coordinating centre of the protests, the study reveals interesting complexities about the articulation between service delivery protests and the historical evolution of political mobilization and protest in Phomolong. In the paper it is argued that, despite some promising aspects and potential to effect thoroughgoing transformation on the local state, post apartheid protest movements present a hybrid and fluid political character, which can be understood by looking at the interface between the internal dynamics of protest movements and the structural factors that influence their formation.