DURBAN - Arterial occupation has become the soft underbelly protesters around South Africa have exposed, often with devastating consequences, to get their voices heard.
The estimated R300 million in damages resulting from two protest actions on the N3 at the Mooi River Plaza over a month are crude reminders of how effective this “weapon of choice” has become.
So says a development management researcher, Professor Susan Booysen, in an article in the Daily Maverick.
She said Tuesday’s revolt in the KZN Midlands came at a time when a different political culture ruled - and in the context of unemployment and poverty, the boundaries of criminality can be vague.
According to Booysen, the damage done to 37 trucks on Easter Monday (April 2) and again during Tuesday’s flaring of tensions in Mooi River was done in the name of visibility of grievances.
And for the opportunists in the crowd, the revolt presented an opportunity to put food on the table by looting the stricken vehicles.
Of the 56 arrested, eight were found to be in possession of stolen goods believed to have been looted from the trucks.
But insufficient evidence against the 48 prompted their release from custody.
The remaining six suspects were all remanded in custody until May 7 and the two minors were released to their parents.
Booysen noted that currently in South Africa, those who live in poverty and hunger have often given up hope that the government can deliver on promises to improve their lot in life.
While police and other authorities probe for leads on who the instigators were, Booysen said the latest attack in Mooi River was planned better and the execution was slicker and more impactful than other similar protests.
Booysen also referred to some of the other arterial route occupations, including taxi blockades of the N1 in Gauteng, the poo protesters on the N2 in Cape Town and protests on sections of the N12 in the North West.
As parts of the country, including KwaZulu-Natal, were plagued by violent protests this week, two professors, who dubbed South Africa the “protest capital of the world”, warned of more to come.
Peter Alexander, a sociology professor at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), said community protests, whether violent or non-violent, were triggered by, among other things, a high level of inequality.
He cited the lack of decent housing and unemployment which he said was most prevalent in black communities.
“Unless this is resolved, people will employ the culture of protesting as the last resort for them to air their grievances because they feel they have waited too long for the change that was promised to them in 1994,” he said.
Alexander is also the chairperson of the South African Research Chair in Social Change and has been researching the spate of protests in the country. He said the information he gleaned from the SAPS’s Incident Registration Information System showed a rising trend in the frequency of protests.
His analysis showed a decrease in protests in the mid-2000s. However, there was a renewed culture of protesting from 2007 onwards with another notable spike in 2012.
“It would appear that more than 14 200 community protests took place between 2005 and 2017,” said Alexander.
“Disruption, also known as civil disobedience, has been an integral part of movements associated with progressive social change, including the British suffragettes, Mahatma Gandhi’s participation in the struggle for Indian independence, the United States’ Civil Rights Movement, and the African National Congress’s Defiance Campaign,” he said.
KZN violence monitor Mary de Haas said protesters have become more prone to using national main roads to sabotage trucks and motorists to attract attention, which causes a massive loss to business.
“Police need to do their job properly and protect property and civilians,” De Haas said.
Patrick O’Leary, owner and editor of FleetWatch magazine, also acknowledged the proliferation of arterial occupation.