It looks like everyone had a nice protest, now what?
On Friday, April 14, 2017 South Africans from all levels of society took to the streets to protest our leader and citizen number one: Mr Jacob Zuma. Public anger over government corruption scandals, record unemployment and slowing economic growth was pushed over the edge when Pres Zuma sacked the respected finance minister Pravin Gordon. South Africans mobilised and took to the streets in protest. The numbers were impressive and barring a few isolated incidents, things went off without incident.
The unfortunate thing about these protests are that they were just an outlet for people’s feelings and unfortunately won’t have a lasting impact or effect. At Chris Hani’s memorial service Mr Zuma stated that it was the disgruntled racists brandishing posters depicting a black people as baboons who were leading the protest. It is very sad that the best tactic you can pull from your bag of tricks is the tried and tested strawman. But here is the bad news: Zuma hasn’t fallen and he’s not going to any time soon. The very next day after the protest the African National Congress leaders said that they will continue to defend Pres Jacob Zuma, whatever it takes. The ANC youth league president Colin Maine says that anti-Zuma protests do not deter the ANC. “We are here to tell them Pres Zuma is going nowhere until 2019.”
Having been there in person, feeling the collective anger amongst those assembled, I felt a strange ray of hope shining through the darkness of my own cynicism. I started thinking about the aftermath of this protest and wondered whether the momentum of this and mass mobilisation will carry these protests into a lasting and enduring change.
So, what other kind of protest can you do?
My intention here is not to turn you into a social justice warrior, but rather to create an awareness. There are other ways that you can go about protesting in your day-to-day life that will not only change other people’s lives, but also make you a better person in the process. If all you did was show up, do more. Mobilise yourself and be the change!
1. Can we start by acknowledging that we still live in a very divided and separated society. Join or support an organisation that actively works to unify. In Cape Town, Reclaim the City is doing a good job.
2. Acknowledge that change is not going to come easy and dignity will not automatically be restored to every South African with the wave of a magic wand. Join a civil society organisation that is fighting the battles of ordinary South Africans that you are far too privileged to even dream of understanding. The Social Justice Coalition is a decent start.
3. Volunteer some of your time to help kids in schools, possibly even in your neighbourhood there are schools that could use your help. If it’s not happening in your neighbourhood you will not have to look very far to find a school that will welcome any help that you can provide.
4. Enquire at your local police station what they might need for trauma crisis and rape victims. Organise these things on a regular basis and join the organisations that help victims especially those from previously disadvantaged communities.
5. Be open to the idea that you as a white person might be mistrusted and even ridiculed. Do not get uptight about it, just deal with it.
6. Momentum and community involvement. Encourage your friends and family members to get involved and do these things. Be the change.
7. If all of this sounds like too much effort for you, get involved in raising funds and awareness for any of these amazing organisations that are working at grassroots level.
8. If you employ people, pay them a decent living wage and that includes contributing to the extras like UIF, paid leave or a pension plan.
9. And if you can’t manage that then at least trying not to be an asshole. That means that the person begging at the robot every single day that you ignore and wave away might be pleasantly surprised if you say hello goodbye or engage in any other activity that acknowledges them as human beings.
Protest is not a TV commercial and it is generally not a peaceful thing. It’s a grotesquely violent and dehumanising daily battle. Acknowledge this. Don’t think that showing up to one protest means that you’ve done your part. Use the energy and the emotion that you felt today and keep the momentum going by channelling it into useful productive forms of protest. We as South Africans are extraordinary human beings capable of extraordinary things with a small fraction of us fighting for justice imagine what we could achieve in those numbers multiply and the majority joins us in this fight for justice and equality.