The continuing abuse of the poor by the elite — Towards understanding recent protests in SA
The road towards the election of Jacob Zuma as the president of the African National Congress (ANC) in both its 2007 and 2012 Conferences presented a number of red flags which were ignored by the ANC. Days leading to the ANC conference in Mangaung in 2012 the organisation had promotional products encouraging tribalism including t-shirts for sale with “100% Zuluboy” inscriptions. The promotional products which encouraged tribalism during his campaign and regular reversion into speaking isiZulu when addressing ANC supporters was amongst that which raised the red flags. Consequently, national cohesion in South Africa was impacted and tribalism slowly began to emerge. During Zuma’s several court appearances a number of Zulu women and men donned in traditional regalia filled the perimeters of the courts displaying tribalist tendencies. The ANC failed to lead then, it did not see the polarizing threat notwithstanding its commitment to non-racialism. Many feared confronting Zuma’s toxic “political popularism”. They feared exclusion, preferring to hide their heads under the sand whilst the cornerstone of the ANC politics, non-racism was being destroyed by Jacob Zuma.
The ongoing violent protests which are threatening the country’s stability are worrying. Right to protest is protected by the constitution in South Africa. Section 17 of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution guarantees that everyone “has the right, peacefully and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket and to present petitions”. Supporters of Jacob Zuma are aggrieved by his incarceration and like all in South Africa have a right to protest. However, violence associated with these protests must be condemned and police must intervene in ensuring that private and public properties are protected, they must also prevent looting of shops and businesses. Whilst exercising their duties, police must be reminded to act within the law. Police have in the past applied heavy handedness and disproportionate force in policing protests particularly in instances where there is skewed public support for police intervention. The situation currently favors strong police intervention, voices outside KZN are calling for forceful and decisive intervention to quell the protests. Even some journalists have called protesters “thugs”. One can only imagine what will happen next time the protesters meet the police in such an environment. Some of the calls for police decisiveness in dealing with the protesters reflect tribalism and to an extent racism. Most of the protesters, at least for now, are black Africans from KZN. Therefore, such calls mainly from outside KZN could further polarize the society. First, not all Zulus in KZN support the ongoing protests. Second, there is also a sizeable number of protesters who are not engaged in acts of violence and looting. Third, violent protests are not necessarily a South African phenomenon. Most protests in poor communities throughout the world do turn violent. Police must learn from countries with such experiences on how to deal with violence in protests. Scaremongering tactics by the police and a blanket condemnation of protest could suppress democratic right of people to protest.
In conclusion, the elite in most societies use the poor to further their aims and objectives. Politicians use voting power of the same people for positions. Owners of capital do the same, they exploit labor in order to enhance their riches and benefits. Middle class pay exploitative salaries for domestic services in order to maintain their financial status quo. Similarly, rogue elite do the same including gangsters and crime syndicates. They use the poor to disrupt and terrorize in order to further their own personal and political agendas. Like the political and business elites, the rogue elite does not care about the wellbeing of the poor. South Africa is not different, like many nations it has a fair share of such people in all spheres of the society. Some religious leaders as well in South Africa are part of this phenomenon, their exploitative nature of the poor serve to enhance their social and political power.
Why is the world then harsh on the protesters given the reality of who really drives the discourse behind the scene? It is the elite that must be condemned when violence erupts, it is them who must be punished afterall “behind every organized protest there’s an elite”? The poor are mere pawns in a larger scheme. South Africans are aware of the elite behind the current protests and violence, however it is the poor that are going to face the wrath of the police and who will be killed and incarcerated.