The negotiated settlement between the apartheid government and the liberation movement was SA’s attempt at redress for the injustices of the past. Opposition to apartheid included various forms of resistance, some legal and others illegal, and all manner of protest movements. Defiance campaigns against the pass laws, the group areas act, migrant labour and influx control are examples of resistance. Protests took the form of marching and picketing against detention without trial, torture in prisons, the separate amenities act, and so on. The struggle against apartheid also entailed bombings of security infrastructure, soft targets like restaurants, churches and the buildings of political organisations. While much of this was illegal, acts of resistance were considered legitimate given the illegitimacy of white minority domination.
The negotiated settlement at CODESA demanded a post-apartheid Constitutional dispensation that would allow basic political rights such as the right to vote and campaign for the party of your choice and participate in the activities of one’s political party. The right to assembly, demonstration, picket and petition – the right, peacefully and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket and to present petitions – in a legitimate state, of course, is different to protest and resistance in an illegitimate state.
Within the current regime there are all kinds of social movements whose modus operandi are to march and protest around working class issues that affect them most deeply. They have used court actions, have mounted constitutional challenges, and have marched to make their voices heard and demand transformation. These are the Landless People’s Movement, the Treatment Action Campaign, the Anti-Privatization Movement, and others. The Trade Union Movement has also used protests and marches to make their voices heard around the labour laws, wage disputes, pay increases, etc. COSATU, however, has used many an illegal form of protest to upstage its Alliance partner in games of political brinkmanship instead of dealing with the rights of the unemployed and poverty. As a labour aristocracy, our trade union movement often organises protests that have nothing to do with worker issues but they use protests to extract various concessions and avoid accountability (as in the case of teachers), wage increases above the inflation rate, shorter work days, and so on.
Year in and year out, the masses vote for the ANC but when they do not get what they want, they trash the streets, smash windows, violate the rights of ordinary citizens, and use illegal means to achieve their goals regardless of the rights of others. Seventeen years into our democracy, we have a well-established protest culture but not an equally well-established democratic culture. Nurtured on a diet of rights, demands, and entitlements, the ANC government has failed to instil a culture of responsibility and obligations.
The majority of black South Africans refuses to use their vote to demonstrate their unhappiness with the government yet will use illegal means of protest to make their voices heard. South Africans have yet to learn that governments should be loyal to them and not the other way around. Unfortunately, liberation movements demand loyalty in perpetuity from those whom they claim to have liberated. Sadly, the “liberated” remains hoodwinked and we fail to learn lessons from post-independence Zimbabwe, Kenya, Malawi, Zambia, Ethiopia, and Somalia!