Do we protest too much?
As this issue of FOCUS went to print, protests and strike actions were top of mind – especially as the former threatened to derail an important industry event.
The function in question was the Truck Test 2013 lunch. You will see lots of photographs from this truly terrific event on these pages. You will also be able to study the results on pages 17 to 21 of this issue.
But, at one stage, we were utterly terrified that no one would arrive at this massively significant event! Not because of a lack of interest (exactly the opposite was true; the manufacturers were desperate to see the results!) But, just days before the lunch was due to take place, the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) announced that it would bring traffic on the M1, N1, N12, and M2 highways in Johannesburg to a halt in a protest against e-tolls!
Our event was scheduled to take place at the extremely central Johannesburg Country Club in Auckland Park, Johannesburg … and most of our guests would be relying on highways to reach our lunch. It had taken six months of planning and extremely hard work to get to this stage – the final announcement of the results – and it appeared as though the entire programme would be in tatters!
Thankfully Cosatu decided to halt its protests after the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court dismissed the union’s application for a highway motorcade. That was the night before our function!
I was practically sick with worry about the implications of the protest action and it was with a sense of sheer delight that I heard the news on 702 that it had been ditched. I shared my delight with a mate, who was horrified. “Aren’t you against the tolls?” she asked with disgust. I am! But, rather selfishly, I did not want a protest to take place that would jeopardise OUR event.
Our experience really got me thinking about protests though – and the merit thereof. I also thought back to the 1990s, when I took part in an ill-conceived and totally useless protest against crime. We caused chaos on the roads of Johannesburg – for nothing. Crime continued. All we did was make some motorists jolly cross.
I cringe with embarrassment when I think of my stupidity; and the fact that I allowed myself to get talked into such a ridiculous protest.
Of course, we do need to protest against things that we don’t agree with – like tolls and crime. Workers also have the right to protest against salaries that they believe to be too low. So what if the economy as a whole will suffer as a result? They don’t care. They want to earn more. If the rand goes to R20 to the dollar, they don’t give a toss.
But how should these protests take place? Is there any reasonable way of arranging them?
Maybe we should take a leaf out of the book of Greenpeace, an organisation I admire immensely – because, when they do protest, they do so peacefully. In fact, the organisation is built around the notion of peaceful protest. “History shows that peaceful protest — which can be an act of civil disobedience, a non-violent direct action (NVDA), direct communication, or a variety of other tactics — has been an effective method of instigating social change and prompting the repeal of unjust laws. While it often involves breaking the law, peaceful protest has also been responsible for many of the great social advances in modern historical times,” its website proclaims.
The organisation was actually born out of a peaceful protest back on September 15, 1971, when 12 brave souls set sail from Vancouver, Canada, for Amchitka, an island off of Alaska’s coast. Determined to prevent a nuclear test by the United States (US) government, the activists set sail for the nuclear blast zone near the island in a ship. Its name was Greenpeace – and so the organisation was born. Incidentally, the US Coast Guard eventually forced these original Greenpeace activists to turn around before the ship reached its destination. But thanks to the political firestorm the activists ignited, the US government ended nuclear tests at Amchitka in 1972. It was a case of mission possible!
I think we can learn three lessons from those incredibly brave activists, who could well have sailed to their death. The first is that they were peaceful (yes, I know I am repeating myself, but – in this country – I think you can never highlight the benefits of peace too often). Secondly, Greenpeace plans its protests extremely well. Thirdly, Greenpeace selects truly deserving causes. Its protests are not merely a way of life; when Greenpeace takes action, everyone sits up and notices.
I fear that exactly the opposite is happening in South Africa. Protests and strike actions are a dime a dozen. We have even started referring to “strike season” – as though protest action is the norm and not the exception.
This won’t achieve tangible results. Remember Hamlet? People will only roll their eyes and comment that the workers “protest too much” …