Insurgent Citizens, Here We Come!

A commentary on the phenomenon of protests in South Africa

By The Nelson Mandela Foundation

Feesmust fall protest (2019-06-30) by Edward MolopiThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

Protest, a catalyst for change

Protest has always been a
catalyst for social change in South Africa.

Protests in the struggle
against apartheid, to oppose a system which marginalized and oppressed black
South Africans, is evidence of the power of protest to bring about change.

The image on the right are the fees must fall students, carrying a 1979 placard.

On the left side of the panel there is a picture of the 1976 uprising in Soweto.

Barbed wire and gloves (2019-03-26) by Nelson Mandela FoundationThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

The right to protest is an essential tool for political expression and a crucial mechanism through which dissatisfied groups can voice their grievances.

Marikana miners commemorative T-shirt (2019-06-30) by Edward MolopiThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

In the exhibition we feature various widely publicised protest including The Marikana Miners Protest, where 34 miners were shot dead by the police when protesting for higher wages.

Marikana miner (2019-06-05) by Edward MolopiThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

We are tired of being captive. We will decide who will remain here - either the police or us. You cannot have two bulls in a kraal.

Mgcineni "Mambush" Noki - Marikana mineworker

Policeman (2019-06-30) by Edward MolopiThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

Policing of protest and use of force

The state, private institutions and the police have often responded to protests with violence and intimidation. Recent history is filled with instances of violent repression. The police have used  tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets against protestors.

Protest placards (2019-06-12) by Nelson Mandela FoundationThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

Protest placards with provocative slogans

On the right side, a public order policeman uniform accompanied by rubber bullets, teargas canisters, Loudhailer and baton.

Petitions (2019-06-30) by Edward MolopiThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

Protests are not the first resort 

Research shows that protest is often a last resort which communities turn to when other participatory mechanisms have failed.

Police reported statistics (2019-06-30) by Edward MolopiThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

Protest with weapon (2019-06-30) by Nelson Mandela FoundationThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

Violence and disruption

Some popular media can be  quick to portray a protest as violent because protestors carry ceremonial weapons, for example forgetting that the police are carrying, and have been known to use, far more lethal weapons.

Rocks and stones (2019-06-30) by Edward MolopiThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

Burning tyres have been used by protesters to barricade roads during a disruptive protest. When set alight tyres, they release a dark, thick smoke, which can be seen from a distance.

LGBTI flags (2019-06-30) by Nelson Mandela FoundationThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

Challenging each other

Not all protests are aimed at the state or state institutions, many protests challenge other citizens or private institutions. They challenge the status quo.

The #Khwezi protest where four women silently protested by holding up placards affirming ‘Khwezi’, former President Jacob Zuma’s rape accuser in front of the former president.

Shadow outline of silent protest (2019-06-30) by Nelson Mandela FoundationThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

KhoiSan (2019-06-30) by Nelson Mandela FoundationThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

Who is protesting

“Patterns have started emerging. Criminals within the township have taken advantage of the relative chaos. These are mostly young men who tend to emerge at night or after trouble has already started. Young women, on the other hand, are constantly at the coal face, and tend to be mightily militant”, remarks Phillip de Wet, "Themb' elihle: A breakdown of ingredients for a service delivery riot" Daily Maverick (8 September 2011).

Credits: Story

Research was done by The Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa
Photos of the exhibition taken by Edward Molopi and Ethel Arends
Design and production of the exhibition was done by Eland Design for the Nelson Mandela Foundation

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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