Public consultations, the personal is political

By ^NS –

“The personal is political is an argument used previously as a rallying slogan for the student movement and second-wave feminism from the late 1960s.”

The personal is political refers to a theory that personal problems are political problems. It deconstructs the notion that what happens in the home is removed from the public/ municipal sphere.

During the Johannesburg Integrated Development Planning public consultations, I perceived frustration, anger and poverty that were results of systemic operations that are overriding the people’s needs and demeaning their quality of life.

Residents asked an array of questions on service delivery, infrastructure, unemployment, broken promises, timelines, and public safety. A woman stopped and asked me if emergency services work at night? Surprised, I asked why do you ask and she replied: ‘They never make it here, so I wasn’t sure.’

There are 181 informal settlements in Johannesburg, all without basic service delivery nor street names, making it difficult for Joburg Emergency Management Services to reach them.

The City conducted 30 public meetings in all seven regions of Johannesburg. After attending six out of the 30 public consultations (with various members of my team covering their portion) I was reminded of a theory I was thoroughly invested in back in my varsity days, but have seemingly chosen to forget like a bad memory: the personal is political.

The feelings of deprivation, anger, lack or slow service delivery and calculated hopefulness expressed by residents from all seven regions were not made-up stories, but painted a picture of a people that have been limited by a broader political and socio-economic setting.

This is not to overlook the changes that have been made over the past few years but to drill in the fact that the city will never be able to do enough to alleviate the circumstances some of our residents are facing overnight. Mayor Herman Mashaba said  research showed it would take 55 years to close the inequality gap, however issues that can be urgently addressed will be addressed.

Residents gave personal details of their experiences, whether it be lack of police visibility, lack of public faith in the police force, lack of small business support, water or electricity. Their details were personal but the wide-ranging texture and character  are fundamentally systemic. The personal is political, therefore, means that our personal lives are considerably politically determined. Improving our personal experiences means that we must collectively hold accountable those in political office and address political relationships and structures.

The personal being political also means that personal choices have political implications. This means all the choices we make as residents, even those that seem apolitical, have political repercussions. With that said, I would like to commend every resident who attended the public consultation meetings. Each individual has to be concerned with the political. Personal experiences are a product of systemic relations but political phenomena and change arise from the combined personal choices of residents.

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