Whether or not you support the national shutdown, the truth is that there is little else the poorest citizens of this country can do to bring their ever-increasing suffering to the attention of the government.
The tortoise-slow and head-in-thesand response of the government to the suffering of the poorest citizens and its own unchecked opulence deserves a public challenge in the town square.
The current French pension reform strikes have resulted in more than 2 million people spread over 200 sites of protest across the country. The Paris demonstrations alone had more than 400 000 people in them. The fires and the shutdowns by the striking population have led to many police clashes.
Public protest always walks a fine line between calm and peaceful solidarity and robust expressions of singing and occupying public spaces.
Here is an undisputed fact: protests of both peaceful solidarity and robust expressions of action have led to violence. The initiation of violence cannot easily be placed at anyone’s door. A protester being pushed in a peaceful march due to a crowd surge can lead to violence. A police officer making contact with a protester to get him or her to comply with a protest rule or boundary can lead to violence.
In a volatile society such as ours, peaceful protest is a near impossibility. The huge gaps between rich and poor make peaceful protest an often unattainable outcome, given the emotions in marches. In addition, the absence and lack of solidarity of the rich and powerful with the poor at these marches is a huge contributor to the protest dynamics.
In their absence, the powerful and the rich are represented in the law enforcement forces on the day and therefore the logic of the protesters is that the security forces must be confronted and protested against. The police, therefore, become a target for the marches as a proxy for the state, the rich and the powerful. This is a logic that has existed for aeons in protest psychology.
Three of the biggest marches in memory – the Women’s March of 1956, the Cape Town Peace March of 1989, and the Zuma Must Fall protests of 2017 were peaceful and accomplished their purpose because they were the most culturally and economically diverse marches in our history.
The power of a cultural and economically inclusive protest march must not be underestimated. Such protest marches have had the most positive influences on our national sense of identity. However, the unfortunate narrative embraced by the City of Cape Town has now embedded violence into the national shutdown narrative instead of defusing it. The City has now positioned itself as an agent of the rich and powerful instead of as an ally of the poor.
Notwithstanding the threats by the EFF, the City of Cape Town and the Western Cape government had the opportunity to engage the EFF and turn this event into a people’s march to bring the plight of the people to the ANC government.
This was an opportunity to direct this protest into an inclusive national commentary on the failures of the ANC government. Instead, they made this about the EFF and not the millions of people affected by load-shedding, unemployment and poverty. The march has now become a narrative of violence vs non-violence, which will have a predictable outcome.
A court order will not moderate the pain and protest of people. What would moderate their pain would be if the rich and the powerful engaged the march organisers and pledged to join it and, like in previous years, brought its unique influence of solidarity into the protest columns. There is nothing more powerful than to see ethical corporate leaders and suburban residents link arms with poor people in a protest march against exploitation.
This is a missed opportunity by the rich and powerful to repeat the power of protest we saw in 1956, 1989 and 2017.
* Lorenzo A Davids.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
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