A South African woman who relocated to Hong Kong, has gone viral for her emotional plea that was caught on camera during the city's protests. Picture: Screengrab
The video is arresting. A young woman kneels in a yellow dress on a street corner, apparently praying, with ranks of riot police beyond. It’s not quite Tiananmen Square in Beijing 1989, but Hong Kong 2019, the scene of two-and-a-half months of increasingly violent protests in a country unused to public protest.

The woman is sobbing: “South Africa has this. I don’t want this. This is not the Hong Kong that I’ve learnt to love. Everybody in Hong Kong is so lovable and welcoming to foreigners.”

The reaction back home this week was immediate, visceral and generally vicious. She was castigated, especially by the “Woke” and the “Best Whites” on social media for her apparent selfishness and her white privilege, because by common consent the protest is righteous; it’s against mainland China and now she’s made it all about her.

Most ignored what she said next: “There’s a good and bad to both sides (police and protest), I just wish that both sides would just stop. I understand what they’re fighting for we’re not supposed to be like this, we’re supposed to be fighting together, not against each other.”

Nobody has plumbed an essential truth in what she said: that protests are terrifying and that irrespective of the noble aim, there is invariably an anti-social element which will seek to use the mob to slake their lust for destruction.

In South Africa, our protesters (bizarrely often municipal refuse workers) overturn dustbins in the city centres, setting fire to truck tyres on the streets, creating mega potholes.

In townships, protesters (bizarrely residents themselves) regularly burn libraries, clinics and schools to the ground.

On our campuses, protesters (bizarrely university students) engage a wanton orgy of vandalism burning libraries on campus, especially in the second iteration of the #FeesMustFall movement in 2017.

Then there are the out-and-out criminals who loot and rampage in their wake, as the police struggle vainly to protect life and property without going fully automatic into another Marikana - or just stand aside as the Somalian shopkeepers see their livelihoods being brazenly carried off.

All of that’s the esoteric stuff - before you get caught in the middle of a mob.

Anyone who’s ever been there will tell you a mob is a beast that seethes and surges; a tsunami of terror that can turn on individuals within it on a caprice - like the ostensible ANC supporters kicking a woman on the ground outside party headquarters in downtown Joburg, or police accidentally on purpose aiming their rubber bullets directly at protesters (and sometimes journalists).

We don’t know what set the woman in the yellow dress off; if she had once been caught in a mob, or if she just suffers from the little spoken of PTSD of being a South African in an era of state capture; RET fight back; state impotence; gargantuan unemployment and seething resentment.

But we all know there is more than an element of truth in what she said - and that’s perhaps why she’s being burnt at the Twitter stake this week.

* Ritchie is a former journalist and newspaper editor

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Saturday Star