Today I read an interesting article about the matter of embedded journalism (http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2012-08-24-marikana-the-matter-of-embedded-journalism#.UU89shdqng0.). It talks about the fact that there are conflicting ideas about what happened at the Marikana shooting. The version which seems to be the most popular and that has been the most fleshed out by television is that miners initiated the violence by firing at police first. The problem with most of the coverage of the Marikana shooting was that journalists were standing behind the police and only saw their perspective. Jane Duncan feels that it looks like a lot of media companies are falling into the trap of embedded journalism these days, and says that the problem with where journalists were situated in this event is that one almost sees what occurred through the eyes of the police, therefore making it easier to rationalise their actions. What has come out from alternative reports however is that miners were not charging at police at all, but in fact police shot at them and they were actually fleeing.
The term embedded journalism originally refers to news reporters being attached to military units involved in armed conflicts (http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2004/03/15_mediatwar.shtml.). The journalists viewed the shooting from a point of safety among the police. The other problem with the Marikana event is that the miners have not been given much of a voice in the coverage of the whole incident. Instead the usual dominant sources such as the police and government have been utilised again and again. These sources in general tend to be seen as ‘credible’ and ‘legitimate’. Also, as these sources are used so often and by so many different reporters they tend to appear more reliable, even if they are not. The workers themselves are brushed aside as being the less favoured, less tolerated party whose voices are not trusted or respected to the same extent.
However there has been one researcher, Peter Alexander, who exposed an alternative account quite early on during the storie’s unfolding, one that challenges the mainstream account. His research leaned towards the possibility of a premeditated police plan, which saw miners running like bait right into the police line. Of course his research needs serious scrutiny too, and has been difficult to prove due to lack of eye witness evidence, but what is very important here, I think, is the need for two more balanced and equal sides to the story. Although this article was written in August last year, the point still stands that the coverage at the time was very one sided. There needed to be a lot more research done, interviewing of miners, eye witness accounts from other stand points before such drastic and accusing conclusions were made for all to read. One cannot have a huge story like this only represented from one side, especially considering the already present powerlessness of the miners, who are even more shunned and marginalised by the media.
This kind of reporting could have serious repercussions for workers in general, as miners felt a major sense of betrayal in the way that the story was represented. If workers start to build a perception that journalists are running an agenda for the status quo, it will be difficult for journalists to get information out of them in order to get balanced representations of events. Workers will build a sense of mistrust and hostility towards journalists which will not bode well for the future of reporting in South Africa.
Protesters at the bail application of the police accused of murdering Emidio Macia. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)
2012 has seen the highest number of protests since 1994. And around 80% of these were more violent than before. (http://www.sowetanlive.co.za/news/2012/10/11/the-year-that-anger-boils-over.). In the Western Cape we saw 179 violent strikes and protests. This involved the burning of tyres, utilising force, carrying sticks or other weapons and blocking roads with barricades. There appeared to be a spike in these violent protests from September, which were also very widespread, whereas it had been previously unheard of to have such a large number of simultaneous outbursts (http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/179-violent-protests-in-Western-Cape-in-2012-20130131.).
In order to keep protesters under control, police have been challenged to the extreme, “We are concerned because public unrest takes place in the context of violence and violent crimes in our society, and the police often find themselves in compromising situations,” said Thabo Matsose, Sapu second vice president. Often police themselves cannot escape this violence and are killed. Police have been largely unable to cope with the recent surge of protests (http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/Violent-protests-a-challenge-for-cops-union-20121016.).
Similar views were expressed by the Institute for Security Studies; “You [are] looking at a number of two million people involved in violent protests in the past five years which had a police response,” said ISS crime and justice head Gareth Newham. Most of the anger of the protesters appeared to be directed towards local government, but police were obliged to act on it. In response to violence police had to in turn use forceful, even violent measures, such as “firing teargas, rubber bullets… to disperse people and to prevent people from doing the kind of damage they can,” said Newham. This response by the police has created it’s own problems, as “this means that the people involved see police as part of the problem and they stop reporting crime… ” (http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/Violent-protests-a-challenge-for-cops-union-20121016.).
What really worries me however, are the recent cases of police brutality reported, for example video footage of 9 police officers dragging a taxi driver behind a police vehicle for about 400m. The man died of various injuries. The officers are currently charged with the murder of the taxi driver whose crime was causing obstruction and “resisting arrest” . There was also the recent killing of 34 marikana miners, which were shot by police during a strike. This police brutality trend goes back a few years as well, with the 2011 death of mathematics teacher and community activist Andries Tatane who was bludgeoned to death by 12 police officers during a service delivery protest in Ficksburg. And let’s not forget the 2010 shooting of 15 year old Kwazi Ndlovu (http://www.africareview.com/Blogs/Trend-of-police-brutality-in-South-Africa-worrying-/-/979192/1718858/-/p9t5lo/-/index.html.). The problem of police brutality therefore goes FAR beyond just it’s treatment of protesters.
In the State of the Nation address, Zuma called on protesters to exercise their right to ordered and peaceful protests, saying it was unacceptable “when people’s rights are violated by perpetrators of violent actions…” But he mentioned nothing about the police brutality, which has caused a public outrage (http://mg.co.za/article/2013-03-15-00-police-brutality-on-the-march.). To me this brutality trend along with many bad experiences people that I know have had with police and law enforcers, begs the question, can and should such low-paid, undertrained officers be trusted to enforce law and maintain peace, or is this away of displacing their anger on those over whom they can exert power. How can those in positions of authority be so hypocritical, and commit the very crimes they are meant to be preventing? Police continuously use excessive force on street protesters, and last year, police officials even had to announce restrictions on the use of rubber bullets against protesters due to increased reports of serious injuries.
As far as I’m concerned the problem with violent protests/strikes is two fold. The number of them being carried out at present is of course very alarming. Yes the protesters are having to resort to more drastic measures in order to get attention, but they are only doing this because peaceful demonstrations seldom appear to bring about change (a problem that needs urgent attention at present) . Police respond to this in a way that they see fit. Sometimes, I agree, there is little else to be done besides trying to dissipate the action, but it is clear in other cases that the police are abusing their own power. If the police cannot exercise peace and control, then how are the citizens expected to? They are adding to an already very serious problem of violence in South Africa. The recent police brutality also means that people feel that they have no one to turn to, to trust, and the police at times become a force equally as violent as it’s people.
I expressed in an earlier post my shock with the attitude that protesters have about needing to use violence and destruction to get attention. Not just to get attention, but the ONLY way to get attention. I exclaimed that this was not a simple issue, and no one party can be blamed. We are still dealing with the age old issue of the powerless masses vs the powerful minority. I feel that the fact that we have such extensive strike action on such a regular basis points very strongly to the deeper underlying issues still very apparent in South Africa such as the voiceless masses. In a democracy people continuously feel they are not being heard, and are as angry and frustrated as ever. When I scroll down News24’s recent strike reports I realise just how many individual separate cases of dissatisfaction and contestation are going on with regard to labour, and the promises not delivered by the Government and/or bosses.
Where does one begin in explaining the vast number of problems that we as a country are still facing? Strikes and demonstrations are just one of the visible outcomes of a country still so heavily burdened with inequality and poverty. As I read recently in the economist, “It [South Africa] has made progress since becoming a full democracy in 1994. But a failure of leadership means that in many ways, South Africa is now going backwards” (http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21564829-it-has-made-progress-becoming-full-democracy-1994-failure-leadership-means.). Since 1994 South Africa has made progress in some ways; it has become a democracy and overthrown the racist governance of the past. Many more citizens have access to clean water and electricity and between 1996 and 2010 the proportion living on less than $2 a day fell from 12% to 5%. But in other ways we are in a worse state than before. At the recent Marikana strike an estimated 34 people were shot dead, and since then mayhem has broken out at many other mines too. Thousands of miners have since been fired. Our GDP growth is expected to average at 2.5% cent, down from 3.1% in the previous year. We need growth rates in excess of five per cent to create more jobs (http://www.westerncape.gov.za/speech/state-nation-address-2013.). Unemployment is currently at over 25%. (http://www.tradingeconomics.com/south-africa/unemployment-rate.). After 18 years of democracy, South Africa is one of the most unequal countries in the world.
Another big problem is that, although the ANC once stood for freedom, equality and the empowerment of all people, today it is a party fraught with the corruption and greed of individual members, out for themselves and their own interests first and foremost. While many struggle to make ends meet Zuma spends Millions on his own private estate.
South Africa has been dubbed the protest capital of the world (http://www.thoughtleader.co.za/chrisrodrigues/2010/04/05/on-revolutionary-songs/.), since 2008 more than 2 million people have taken to the streets in protest every year. The most common reasons for protest are land and housing disputes. The number of protests reached an all-time high in 2010/2011 and then a further all time post-apartheid peak in July 2012 (http://www.sacsis.org.za/site/article/1388.). “Land and housing issues are the most oft-cited with 303 incidents over the 6-year period, with poor service delivery second most frequent at 218 incidents. Grievances related to broken promises and government officials ignoring protesters’ grievances risen exponentially since 2010 but still account for less than 10% of total complaints” said Nashira Davids of the Sowetan (http://www.sowetanlive.co.za/news/2012/10/11/the-year-that-anger-boils-over.). With all of these figures in mind, it is easier to understand how dire the situation is. Striking shows that there is a lack of working together between different parties, or that people are unhappy with what they have/have not been given. The fact that more people are striking and protesting now than ever before shows that there is still so much that needs to be addressed in the new South Africa. It is clear that South Africa is in a state of turmoil and that much still needs to change, the people are crying out.
“South Africa is not a violent country – it is certain people in our country who are violent” said Jacob Zuma last Thursday. Referring to the recent outrage over violence in South Africa, Zuma proceeded to say that “people should not paint all South Africans as violent and brutal”. This speech was made after a wave of police action, protests and crime brought violence in South Africa into the international spotlight (http://mg.co.za/article/2013-03-07-south-africa-not-a-violent-country-says-zuma.).
Recent events include the killing of 34 miners by police at Marikana last year, the arrest of eight police officers implicated in the death of Mido Macia, the rape and murder of teenager Anene Booysen in Bredasdorp in the Western Cape and the arrest of Paralympian and Olympian Oscar Pistorius, who was charged with the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
Maybe Mr Zuma is in denial or trying to hold onto a sense of optimism, either way, it is long past the time for that. People are sick and tired of hearing about yet another horrific murder or rape. And they are also sick of all talk and no action. All we ever seem to see on the front pages of newspapers, on TV, on the homepage of news sites, is the latest violent crimes. The worst part is the number of injustices, murders and crimes committed by our very own law enforcers. How do we implement justice if our police are corrupt? It needs to start from the top.
People really don’t want to hear that “South Africa is not a violent country”. Yes not everybody is violent and yes it IS individual people that are violent, but it is the PERCENTAGE of individuals that are violent, the number of crimes committed, that makes South Africa violent as a whole, especially when compared to many other parts of the world.
Zuma said that “as far as general crime was concerned, the levels decreased over the years”. General crime may have decreased, but it has only done so marginally in 2012, according to a mail and guardian report-only 3.1% decrease from last year, or 331 less murders. The murder rate is four and a half times more than the global average of 6.9 murders per 100 000. There was also an increase in drug-related crime, which was up 15.6% over the previous year (http://mg.co.za/article/2012-09-20-marginal-improvement-in-crime-stats.).
Gracia Michelle makes a good point when she says; “The level of anger and aggression is rising. This is an expression of deeper trouble from the past that has not been addressed. We have to be more cautious about how we deal with a society that is bleeding and breathing pain”(http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-03-12-violence-in-sa-wake-up-mr-president/#.UUFm8tb06S8.). The truth is, people are still very angry and things in South Africa are far from perfect, with so many unemployed and underpaid citizens who feel as if they have no power or voice. Hence the number of violent strikes taking place too.
So to me, comments like Jacob Zuma’s come across as more annoying, and attempting to side step the issue at hand than admitting it’s true catastrophic nature and therefore addressing it. In order to REALLY begin to solve a problem should one admit to the problem and it’s true gravity first and foremost, surely? South Africa IS one of the most violent countries in the world, this is common knowledge which no amount of clever wording can obscure. People will only start to think of South Africa and its people as peaceful when the number of devastating events drops, when the statistics show this to be so, when violent demonstrations and protests stop being a weekly event.
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…
Today I found an interesting piece on News24. It outlined the fact that almost half of a group of young adults surveyed told market researcher Pondering Panda that violent strikes were the only way to get the attention of bosses (http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/Violence-gets-bosses-to-listen-survey-20121023.).
More black respondents supported violent strikes than any other races (at 53%), which is understandable since they are the majority of minimum wage earners in South Africa at present, followed by 35% of coloureds and 25% of Indians. Only 11% of whites conveyed this outlook. White respondents were much more likely than blacks to feel that violent strikes were against the law, and that strikers should be arrested. This issue is not so much about race as it is about circumstances. It is easy to see destruction and violence as unnecessary when removed from the whole process.
Acting government spokeswoman Phumla Williams says of the matter that “No one should be intimidated to take or not to take industrial action in a democracy”, and goes on to say that ”No one should resort to any forms of violence against people or property as a form of striking or protest” (http://www.timeslive.co.za/local/2012/10/11/illegal-and-violent-strikes-hurt-south-africa-government.). Although of course I agree to this in theory- that violence is a huge problem in this country and that attitudes need to change-it is a very complicated issue indeed. We cannot pin the blame on the strikers directly for this attitude, and need to look at the fact that violence is not the ‘go to’ solution so much as the last resort in often very long battles to be heard. Violence is something that happens because of a build-up of frustration over time, and often bursts forth out of desperation. Also, unfortunately violence is something that is extremely embedded in our society, and follows a vicious and continuous cycle. It is everywhere around us all the time.
Unfortunately, aside from deaths that result, strikes and protests are at present giving South Africa a bad name internationally, as a country constantly using lawlessness, violence, and intimidation to try and bring about change. One might think to themselves, who wants to listen to a bunch of angry people brandishing sticks and other threatening weapons? Does this demand respect? They are abusing their democratic right to strike, and are undoing all of the work done after apartheid to create “a space for protected peaceful strikes, which obviates the need for illegal strikes accompanied by violence and intimidation”, says Williams. Unfortunately, we are still very much in the throws of the aftermath of apartheid, and things are far from where we would like them to be. It is perhaps a case of bosses and strikers not communicating correctly often, a lack of working together which is causing such a large number of strikes in South Africa in the first place, and worse than that- that they feel they have to be violent and destructive to get attention and action.