THERE is little doubt in my mind that South Africans are generally speaking – very active protestors. Take the “poo protestors” for example. Poo throwing was disgusting but it was creative and radical.
An effective protest method though, should successfully address the concerns presented. Instead, as in the case of Andile Lili, the face of the poo protestors, negative attention tends to be drawn. Lili was arrested for inciting violence. He allegedly told a crowd that criminals should be “killed immediately and brutally”. This happened last week while he was outside court while on bail for the Cape Town International Airport poo-throwing incident.
Perhaps the correct word for Lili is reckless. Would he like to be killed for inciting violence if his statement is found to be a criminal offence?
The poo throwing protest method was successful in the hands of UCT student, Chumani Maxhwele, who famously threw pig excrement at Cecil John Rhodes’ statue. The stench sparked a movement which saw the statue removed a month later. However, Maxhwele is currently suspended from the university for other reasons.
These poo protesters keep finding themselves in some kind of poo.
Poo throwing is a health hazard which is the point of the protest, I suppose. Other methods of protest can involve burning buildings or breaking into and looting shops. This is not only destructive but a violation of others’ rights, even if government property is vandalised.
The majority of our protests still mimic anti-apartheid style protests. These are sometimes negative and violent. We need creative forms of protest that reflect a mature democracy.
I am surprised no one has started a SA Creative Protest Agency – to assist the public with innovative, effective and legal forms of protest. That is a free business idea. This would most likely put the unions out of business.
We are so good at protesting we have even witnessed a political party protesting in parliament. Yes, you know who, the EFF! President Jacob Zuma has been interrupted more than once with their chants of #paybackthemoney!
He was also the target of embarrassing booing at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service. That too was a protest.
Protest is necessary. It is part of a healthy democracy. Our protest culture however, tends to reflect a mindset of entitlement where we are forever making demands. In such a context the 67 minutes for Mandela is refreshing, even though a little cheesy.
Possibly the most powerful protest for our society will be the day we decide to take responsibility to actively make a difference in each other’s communities, not just once on Mandela Day.
If the power to make a difference is grasped by the people, government will surely have to deliver in order to win our votes. This could shift the power dynamics so that the government can no longer behave like our master, nor our bully, but our servant.
Protest must be accompanied by a culture of service. The people of SA know how to liberate themselves from an oppressive regime. How much more can we achieve under a democratic government? It was not a government that liberated this country but an unstoppable movement of people who refused to postpone their freedom. They would not be stopped by intimidation or death.
Mandela emerged as the greatest in the liberation movement of the ANC. Even after his retirement, he knew the work of liberation was far from complete. In his poverty speech in London, Trafalgar Square, Madiba called poverty a man-made prison that could be eradicated by other human beings.
It is time for South Africans to rise up against corruption and poverty. But we will need new songs and new methods of protest, far away from poo or blood.
This column appears on today’s Daily Dispatch newspaper on print.