FIKILE-NTSIKELELO MOYA: Avoiding protests? Be prepared for criminality


The most astonishing news about the threats to burn Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s book about ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule was that so many people were shocked.

In a country where protesters burn buildings, trains, university libraries, and trucks on national roads, we should not really be surprised that they would also burn a book.

We are unfortunately past 19th century German journalist and poet Heinrich Heine’s prescient quote “where they burn books, they will too in the end burn people”. We did that in the 1980s and called it “necklacing”.

We could continue feign shock at the temerity to burn books. Or we could see this as the moment of collecting reflection on the dangerously destructive protest culture.

The argument that the marginalised burn down things because it is the only way they can be seen or heard is a half-truth. The half is that it is like a spoiled brat who would cause a scene at a mall just so they can embarrass mummy and daddy.

The poor and the marginalised – being a numerical majority – have enormous political leverage that they do not use. To burn down amenities or threaten not to vote is a negative use of that power.

They should stop enabling the stereotype that being poor equals being stupid, and start to organise themselves into a political or lobby bloc with clear demands as to what they want from those elected and outline consequences for the elected not being responsive.

The Economic Freedom Fighters plays that role perfectly. As the third biggest party in the metros that the ANC lost in the previous local government elections, they hold the precarious balance of power and never hesitate to use it to get their way, which is not always in the best interests of the electorate.

Another matter that requires critical attention is that we need to overcome our self-imposed gagging when it comes to the behaviour of the poorest and the marginalised.

Far too many, including the political parties, fear any condemnation of the public violence and calling for law enforcement could be perceived as being anti-poor or hankering for apartheid-style “skop, skiet en donder” mentality.

Political parties are the worst. They tip-toe around obvious anti-democratic behaviour because they do not want to upset the voters, especially not at election time. Instead of treating voters like adults who can handle uncomfortable truths, they placate them with more promises they know they could never fulfill.

Someone needs to tell politicians that if they continue doing this, they will not win a city, province or country, but a crime scene with an entrenched anti-establishment mindset.

Soweto residents’ refusal to pay the R17 billion they owe Eskom is an example of how things can degenerate if the state does not put its foot down and govern with the right balance of delivering services and holding citizens to account for their role.

A state that would rather behave like a guilty absent parent too embarrassed to call out unacceptable behaviour enables a culture where they burn books, private property, trains and who knows what else in future.

Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is an independent journalist and former editor of The Mercury and The Witness.