Mind the Gap: Protest State of Mind

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17 September was the one-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street – the beginning of a movement.

I find celebrating the anniversary of a protest weird. I live in South Africa. We have protests practically every day. In the Struggle against Apartheid, opposition movements encouraged citizens to “make this country ungovernable”. And though Apartheid fell, the mindset stuck.

[And to be frank, I do think that it was the sanctions against South Africa that really brought the Apartheid government to it's knees, rather than the protests. Protests got the word out, but people were no match for the brutal police force.]

On second thought, perhaps celebrating such an anniversary is not so weird. In South Africa, Human Rights Day commemorates the Sharpeville Massacre. Youth Day remembers the Soweto Riots. National Women’s Day commemorates the the women of all races who marched against the Pass Laws. I did not live in those times, but I feel sentimental for a time when protests were organised, goal-oriented, worthy.

My country has a protest-mindset, and I’ve always been very pro-strike, pro-rally, pro-march. And I will never believe in outlawing protests, but the recent Lonmin Disaster with our country’s mines have made me more skeptical about the idea.

The Boy works in the financial sector, so he understands these things more than me (and no, he’s not in the so-called 1% – he drives a scrappy car that threatens to give its last breath, and he struggles to make ends meet).

What I do know is that Lonmin Mine eventually acquiesced to giving miners a raise (though not the 300% raise they demanded), but in order to do so had to close an entire shaft and retrench several hundred miners.

AMPLATS, on the other hand, fired the workers who were absent from work, stating that there are many jobless in this country who would love the opportunity to work. Nobody has tried to sue them so I assume they were in line with the country’s labour laws.

In recent months, there have been a number of unpleasant protests in Cape Town as well. I can tell you that it was not fun arriving at an airport to hear that less than a kilometre away tires were burnt and violence was looming.

Check out Jerm’s cartoon’s by clicking this image – they’re awesome.

Heck, don’t get me wrong. I think it is ridiculous that Cyril Ramaphosa, who lead one of South Africa’s largest mining strikes in history, now sits on a mining company’s board, earning millions a year and denying mine workers a worthy raise. These mineworkers, unskilled though they may be, risk their lives kilometres under the ground, and their work is what drives our country’s economy. So no, I don’t think they are wrong to want a feasible livelihood. But going to a witch doctor and killing for muti? Yeah, THAT helped a lot…

People in our country strike because of poor service delivery, because of our President’s penis, because of the Secrecy Bill. And then they vote the same people back into power.

Do people strike about our ridiculous petrol prices? Nope. Granted, very few people realise that relative to the price per barrel, our petrol price should be at LEAST ZAR2.50 less.  Probably very few realise how the petrol price affects their livelihood, regardless of the fact that they don’t own a car.

In 2010, at the beginning of my first term in student governance, we marched in a peaceful protest against a colossal increase in our student fees. Our faculty agreed to a reduction in the proposed increase and promised to start a scholarship fund with their surplus (they’re not even supposed to have a surplus!!). But really, they just got cleverer. The next year they didn’t advertise the fee increase, and by the time we discovered it, it was too late.

Last year, we held a protest in objection to the South African government refusing to allow the Dalai Lama into South Africa. It was a worthy protest, methinks, but nothing changed. We did make the news, however.

I suppose you could say I have lost my faith in the protest-mindset. Protests have ceased to bring forth results. As for the Occupy Movement, I think it’s silly. I’m not an economist and I don’t understand these things fully, but I have seen too many people starving, too many people dying for lack of medical care, to be interested in a movement consisting of well-to-do individuals demanding more money for mediocre work.

Yeah, I struggle to make ends meet.  But wait till you see my patients.

This post is part of the Daily Post’s Weekly Writing Challenge. Join in on the discussion. Keep it clean, please.

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4 thoughts on “Mind the Gap: Protest State of Mind

  1. Thank you for writing this. I wasn’t even aware of many of those problems still plaguing South Africa. I still maintain that protests matter though. The problem with change is that you’re protesting the agent of change. That’s why it’s so slow to change. Don’t stop fighting. I’ll be following.

  2. Same here – thanks for sharing this! I come from a protest oriented country as well – Jamaica – but sometimes I don’t know if I think they are effective. Sometimes the lawlessness detracts from the issue at hand. And I’m very mindful of what’s happening in South Africa (my aunt is an ambassador there and I plan to visit next year).

    • Thanks! It’s good to know my thoughts/disillusionment are not solitary. It’s very easy to forget the ultimate goal when it turns into a battle for survival.
      Cool to hear you’re looking at visiting SA, super exciting :D

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