Contextualising violent protests: “the rebellion of the poor”

2014-02-18 05:24

Peaceful protests have until recently been the preferred medium of civic standing for a cause and against an institution that attracts society's vested interests. They are advocated for by the most logical and intellectual individuals this world has seen, and as a model of remonstration  they have gone as far as being personified by legends like Mahatma Gandhi.

However, when operating within administrations that fail to deliver on election promises and fail to deliver even those basic services that are imperative for social security and human dignity, using peaceful protests as a medium to voice your concerns and recommendations does not add any progressive value in South Africa's modern day society. In actual fact, for the mere time and effort spent on constructing memorandums and mobilising mass action for remediation that never materialises, it can be inferred that these peaceful protests are pointless in our political landscape.

Nelson Mandela resolved in 1961 that “there are thousands of people who feel that it is useless and futile for us to continue talking peace and non-violence — against a government whose only reply is savage attacks on an unarmed and defenceless people. And I think the time has come for us to consider, in the light of our experiences at this day at home, whether the methods which we have applied so far are adequate.” Alas the dawn of the uMkhontoWesizwe.

In the same vein, should community members continue protesting peacefully against local-councils that do not listen to them and continue with their ways of maladministration? I would argue not. Although I cannot justify violent protests within the parameters of civil society, as an individual with human rights, basic needs and a social standing I can understand why these men and women do what they do.

Yes, the people in the poor communities resolve to violent protests. However, there is some logic behind this. The majority (if not all) social actions, be they spontaneous or mundane, always have a degree of historical or social rationale which provides some insights as to why they surface. For example, empirical research conducted behind the concrete walls of the University of Johannesburg reveals among other things that people resolve to violent protests only after the use of peaceful protests and diplomatic processes have failed to yield results. In the majority of cases, violent protests are a last resort.

So why then do these individuals go as far as to burn schools and institutions of recreational activities during protests? I may postulate it might be that this constituency attaches little value to these institutions and their existence within the community concerned. And this value, or lack thereof, might have resulted on the basis that these institutions haven’t done anything to aid in the development and upliftment of these people.

I may go further to postulate that they see the significance of these institutions to be inferior to their constant pleas and demands for the basic standards of living that they have been caucusing for to their local administrators. If libraries are dilapidated and contain books dating back to the apartheid era, and if schools continue to churn out dismal results, then what value can be attached to these institutions? “Why not then set them alight?” they might ask.  These are the assumptions we should be reflecting on as opposed to out rightly condemn and ridicule the actions of these communities from face value constructs.

I for one do not understand why basic service delivery is failing at such rates in this country. It’s not a matter of high expectations and a spirit of entitlement on the side of affected individuals. A basic service is a pre-requisite to social security and it is a human right. We have a right to water and sanitation.  We have a right to education.  We have a right to health and nutrition. If our privilege to these rights is being neglected, then let us fight for them.

Society needs to reflect heavily on the failure of constituted processes to attain basic human rights within the ambit of social protests.


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