There is a culture of violence in South Africa which is retarding any efforts to move the country forward. Violent protests end up causing more problems than there were originally and, even worse, those aggressive tendencies are manipulated by politicians in order to maintain power. We know there is a problem with violence when we look at crime but at times we become so used to it that we seem to forget to call it out when it happens.
The most notable recent violence has been the Marikana massacre where 34 striking miners were killed by police and around 80 injured. Obviously such an event is a tragedy and there will be an inquiry into the events to find out exactly what happened and what went wrong but one aspect of the problem is already obvious, the culture of violence in South Africa. Whether the police were wrong to respond the way they did I don’t think we can just dismiss what the workers themselves were doing. Professor Pierre de Vos seems quite happy to ignore their actions. Bolded sections are my emphasis.
In support of their contention that the killing of 34 miners by members of the SAPS was justified, they argue that the miners were taking part in an illegal strike and an illegal gathering, that the police were scared because some police officers had been killed in the run-up to the massacre and some miners were brandishing traditional weapons, and that one of the miners had shot at the police and that the police were therefore merely defending themselves.
Entirely absent from these kinds of wrongheaded arguments is an understanding of the Constitutional and legal framework within which the police are required to operate in a Constitutional state like our own.
Undoubtedly, he has a far better understanding of the law and constitution than I do but I do feel that he was far too quick to dismiss the mine workers actions. In addition, before the massacre, 10 other people had been killed in unrest, two of whom were policemen. None of that justifies the killing but it cannot be ignored either. Things should never have got that far and part of the blame there must certainly lie with those people that were involved in the illegal strike and carrying weapons. The worst part is that these aggressive and violent tendencies are widespread in the country.
Also this month we have students at the Tshwane University of Technology “protesting against the allocation of the National Students Financial Aid Scheme and the condition of their residences.” It’s one thing to protest but there are ways that it should and shouldn’t be done. In this case students threw rocks at buildings and used petrol bombs to cause large amounts of damage. Not only is such destruction of other people’s property unacceptable but it works against their own goals. Worsening the conditions of the building is the opposite direction to which you want to move and, in cases where there isn’t enough money in the first place, puts you further back because not only do your original concerns need to be addressed but so does the extra damage caused during the protest.
Similarly there have been a number of protests in Cape Town in the past month with at least one person killed and 25 injured. Whether or not the protesters have a legitimate gripe the way that they conducted themselves is just not acceptable.
You have to wonder, if 500 people attended one of the protests in Cape Town, why they couldn’t divert that energy into a more constructive pursuits? The same thing applies to the students. Instead of protesting violently could they not have actually made an attempt to address their concerns themselves? If the quality of the residences was that big of an issue why couldn’t the students get together and clean or repair as best they could? Surely there would be local businesses that would be willing to donate supplies and wouldn’t the university be more inclined to help when they saw that the students were willing to take a positive step themselves? While the upkeep should be the university’s responsibility let’s not forget that the students play a role too. When there is graffiti on the walls or windows broken during a party, that is the result of the student’s themselves.
Just as bad as the actions of the protesters themselves are those of the politicians that encourage these actions. They’re playing games with people’s lives, manipulating terrible conditions, which they should be working at solving, into occasions to win political points. The DA accused the ANCYL of being behind the Cape Town protests, an accusation that they denied. That would be more believable if it weren’t for their prior conduct and that a study of protests in Gauteng and Mpumalanga found that “ANC members played a leading role in all protests.” The ANCYL is planning to lead another protest in Cape Town tomorrow. This incitement to violence even occurred at a memorial service to the miners killed at Marikana.
In a country with so much anger and with prominent political figures happy to hijack even solemn occasions to further their own selfish goals it might seem like there is no hope for an end to the violence but we must keep trying. It’s not all gloom and doom as protest organisers can now be held responsible for damage occurring during those protests. Hopefully that will lead to a reduction in the violence. In the meantime people must really think about the effects of their conduct on other people and think long and hard about whether they take a constructive approach to problems, especially if they already believe those in power do not have their own interests in mind. No one needs governmental approval to work for the betterment of their own communities. Before we act violently to “solve” our problems we should perhaps reflect on other ways of achieving our goals. I’ll end with a quote from Thuli Madonsela’s recent talk at the University of Johannesburg:
We complain about maladministration, but we should ask ourselves, are we part of the problem or the solution?