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By Sydney Majoko


It’s time society realises violent protest action is criminal

At some point in South Africa’s democratic development, a line should have been drawn under violent protests.

A video clip of a doctor being accosted by striking healthcare workers at a Mpumalanga hospital last week is doing the rounds on social media, showing the doctor almost lying down on her work table in an almost foetal position as she appears ready to protect herself, her files and, most importantly, her cellphone which the marauding crowd is demanding.

Voices can be heard demanding that she deletes something from her phone (probably a video of the workers as they stood before her). They eventually grab her and manhandle her as a manner of forcing her out of her office.

Ironically, the strikers are demanding that she delete a video from her cellphone because “she had no permission to record them”, as though the person who recorded her ordeal at the hands of the workers had permission to do so.

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Although faces and voices are clearly identifiable from this short clip, none of those striking workers will ever be brought to book for them manhandling a doctor who was only doing her job. Most importantly, though, the incident captured on video is not an isolated one.

This has become the nature of SA unions’ wage protests. If there is no violence or intimidation then the protest is considered “mild” or ineffective. And the only responsibility that the union takes for the violent actions of their members is to “condemn their actions of thuggery in the strongest possible terms for what was an otherwise peaceful protest” – and that is it.

Case closed and the protesting thugs go on about their intimidation mission to make the strike or wage protest “successful”.

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In leftist union circles, it is considered ahistorical and quite insulting to characterise the sort of thuggish behaviour that is demonstrated by violent striking workers as criminal andthuggish, because workers striking for decent pay cannot be criminalised. And that is where the problem starts.

Avoiding calling a spade a spade does not change what it is. What happened to that doctor is criminal. South Africa’s history of protest is what shaped the nature of protest today. And in the apartheid-era, protests violence was unavoidable because the state itself had trained its police force to meet peaceful protest with a guaranteed violent response.

So it went without saying that anyone going out on the street to protest expected some form of violence.

But that era passed and South Africans’ right to protest peacefully is protected by the constitution. At some point in South Africa’s democratic development, a line should have been drawn under violent protests.

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During the 2021 July looting, it was not enough that goods were stolen out of shops, wholesalers and factories, there had to be burning and destruction.

It is not enough to protest against service delivery without burning down the municipality building where people expect to receive assistance.

When students protest against poor administration of free education, they need to hurl rocks at a security guards because society has made it such that protest is only effective when violent. It is time society realises that protest action that prevents a healthcare professional from discharging their duty is criminal.

When a patient is prevented from accessing a healthcare facility by protesting workers, that is thuggish behaviour.

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It is only when the correct words are used to characterise the criminal and thuggish behaviour that the nature of protest will change to reflect the kind of society that all South Africans fought for: a society free from intimidation and harassment – even during protests.