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Civil Disobedience: A Necessary Evil?



Photo courtesy of The Mail and Guardian, 2012

In an article by the Mail and Guardian (http://mg.co.za/article/2012-08-21-the-politics-of-protests-in-cape-town.), social justice activist Jared Sacks talks about the wave of road blockages and other protests that took place around August 2012. “Protests in the form of marches, the burning of tyres, and road blockades, have been happening every week throughout the city for years. Most go unreported”, claims Sacks.

He notes however that recently they have begun to bleed out into middle class areas, blocking main arterial roads in the city, which drastically affects the everyday life of many citizens, and has often lead to much annoyance, intolerance and anger from civilians. The DA and certain liberal NGOs have not been happy about the manner of protesting and have joined together in condemning these actions.

“Seeing little change since 1994, many activists who have begun to take civil disobedience into middle class spaces argue that it is better to be vilified and taken notice of than to be given “lip service delivery” from the government”, says Sacks. The correct methods followed, activists found, got them nowhere.

To me it is problematic in a democratic society that protesters still have to resort to the illegal protests and destruction characteristic of apartheid in order to (hopefully) get attention. Protests seem to need to be dramatic and drastically disrupt the lives of others in order to have any effect at all. It seems to be the sad truth all over the world; “Had protesters not physically battled the paramilitary police, thrown rocks, engaged in thousands of road blockades, and burned down government buildings which were key symbols of the dictatorship, Mubarak would have likely remained in power for the rest of his life”, says Sacks,  so we are not alone in this.

The real blame appears to lie not with the protesters, but with the lack of concern of those in power to bring about change, rather waiting for something catastrophic to catch their attention and perhaps truly frighten them. The problem is that protests damage the economy, and hinder the efficiency of businesses. They affect everybody except the people that they are meant to grab the attention of.

Perhaps it is not such a good idea, in spite of the destructiveness of protests, for the DA and the likes to try to ban or stifle them, in any case this only riles people more, and one also needs to realise the need for change, these people won’t give up, they are angry.

I am however in two minds about this whole issue, as it is not in my nature to endorse physical destruction. I find the burning and destroying of buildings, schools and government built facilities-although statement grabbing-ultimately counterproductive to the nature of the protest and disadvantageous to the people who still need those facilities after the protest. These actions are short-sighted in reality, and cannot really be afforded by people who are protesting at the end of the day. That being said, it’s better than violence I suppose…


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