The 1976 student riots are often referenced every time people engage in protests (in SA). As a nation we have a vast history of using protests as a way to communicate political issues in the country. So when I first got wind of a service delivery protest that has been scheduled for 29/11/13 in the Cape Town CBD , I jokingly exclaimed to my colleagues that I would join the march because I wasn’t happy about service delivery either.
But after reading a warning that was allegedly issued by the municipality to businesses within the CBD I changed my tune. The memorandum claimed that protesters were planning to mobilize 200 000 Cape Town informal settlement residents for a march. The emails circulating also claimed that the protest leaders instructed the residents that they were to prevent people from getting to work and also force indifferent residents to join the march. The heated debate that followed in the office got me thinking.
Striking a balance
The reason for the protest is bad service delivery in townships around the city. But where do we draw the line when it comes to protesting? According to the report the protesters were encouraged to loot businesses and to use violence against people trying to get to work. A month ago a similar protest (involving about 3000 people) took place and ended on a sour note. After shaking up the nation (News24 and eNCA reported the looting in detail) it seems this time the government is taking the warnings seriously.
All the violence, looting and controversy – as some say the protests are organized by the ANC Youth League to make the DA look bad – tends to eclipse the real issues. The poor service delivery in townships in Cape Town is a real problem. Housing, sanitation, transport and crime all things the local government should address, but people are no longer empathetic, just fearing for their lives.
I am all for peaceful protests – mobilizing 200 000 people is a commendable feat – but the agenda behind it should be social, not political. Threatening innocent individuals must be the lowest form of protesting. I would love to protest for better service delivery, but I have the right to choose to do so as a human being.
An excerpt from Metro Writer Report:
“The memo says police and emergency services teams will set up joint operating centres to be active from 4am on Friday. Police have requested additional forces, which are expected to arrive in Cape Town today from Pretoria. The memo’s contents were confirmed by provincial head of disaster medicine and special events, Dr Wayne Smith.”
Is there any truth to this?
One of my colleagues commented on how she witnessed about 15 people writing on white boards and discussing the planned protest in Khayelitsha. The numbers (200 000) seem really intimidating, but the reliability of the sources in terms of whether the protest will be violent or not, is shaky. *Vuyo, a 25-year-old Delft resident says, “Yes we’re definitely protesting, but it won’t be violent. We are going to stop all the public transport, but we don’t need to resort to violence to do that.” When I asked him why he’s protesting he said, “I work for [the municipality] so I have to.”
Fear has gripped the entire CBD and many people are planning to stay home. “I remember in 2006 people died in Cape Town after such protests took place. Township residents were dragged out of their homes, beaten up, and forced to join the protest,” said Yanga, a writer from Khayelitsha. “So best believe if someone smells a rat, tomorrow it will go down. I’m supposed to work but I’m staying home, I can’t deal with all that drama.”
Police grasping at straws?
“Yesterday evening (27/11) the police barged into our house demanding to see my cousin and I,” began Tumi – relaying the police’s poor attempt to nip the “violent protest” in the bud. “They actually grabbed us and took us to the police station. They released us after realising that we knew nothing about the protest.” Police are reported to be patrolling and looking for any individuals who have a criminal record in Khayelitsha and then arresting them.
Striking is what we know to do
Back to 1976. That was a time of desperation for our country. The nation had had enough and throwing stones was the only way. We didn’t have glass houses and everyone was willing to die for what they believed in – many had already died. Innocent people were not threatened, beaten up or looted. We as a nation can find better ways to voice our concerns. If there is any truth to the rumours of violence tomorrow, than we should no longer call protests, protests. We should start identifying this kind of behavior for what it is, bullying in its lowest form.
Besides service delivery in Cape Town is not that bad, right?
“Buses run relatively smoothly. You can get around pretty hassle free in cape Town. Roads are tarred and you can get away with speaking on your cellphone in public. Compared to other cities Cape Town’s service delivery is great. I mean I called about a burst pipe the other day and it was fixed within three days,” said *Tina, a writer originally from the USA.
Well to understand Cape Town we need to grasp that Cape TOWN, and TOWNships are two different animals. And so they operate differently. Much of the frustration is clearly seen when you branch out and venture into the Cape Flats or Townships. The living conditions are less than desirable. I appreciate that service delivery is one of those cats that you don’t skin in a day, but so far, the improvement has been far superior and prioritized in the CBD than in the places that need it the most (my editorial mentor warns me as I type this how dangerous this claim is). The local government continues to deny that people of colour do not get the same treatment in the city (referring to how Helen Zille dismissed Lindiwe Suttle and Simphiwe Dana’s claims that Cape Town was colour unfriendly on twitter (Times Live article on the disagreement) and the government continues to site red tape as the demon that hinders timely improvement of lives – even though they are in charge of the red tape.
“When you look for solutions, you need to first get a template that works. And Cape Town has nailed it in that regard. The service delivery might be slightly slanted to benefit one side more than the other, but at least Cape Town has a better operating machine than other provinces,” argued *Tina.
I partially agree with Tina. If I wasn’t a black woman, and also if I had a permanent job, I would love living in Cape Town. I would hide in a average suburb and enjoy the beach and mountain while working my way up in the business world. But I am (a black woman). I’ve witnessed first hand what poverty feels like, and I understand why people are grieved. But one thing I cannot tolerate as a young fledging black woman is seeing individuals who use real, serious issues to further political agendas.
As the reason for the planned protest is apparently not kosher, I am hoping that there will be no protest tomorrow. If there’ll be a protest I hope that no innocent lives are negatively affected by it.
*Names have been changed
[Live Magazine’s Editor in Chief’s Response to violent protest rumours]