Protest history belongs to the desperate.
Protest, by definition, is the stance of the oppressed and the desperate. The less someone is crushed by the status quo (or the more someone is cushioned by the status quo that was), the less that person’s need to protest.
Protest history grants hard-won victories to those who, unable to endure the way things are (or foreseeing the long-term effects of the way things are), exchange what they are doing at that moment, their need to be legally correct, to be in good standing with the world they find themselves in, their self-preservation instinct – in short, everything that makes us all human – for the superhuman decisiveness of responding to the hour they find themselves in with the selflessness and tenacity it takes to change the situation they’re fighting against.
In other words, protest doesn’t belong to people who give to a cause what they have, but to people who give to a cause what the cause needs. There aren’t enough of those as yet because the only people who can afford to give this cause what it needs are people who have nothing left to lose. The past that produced privilege for some at the cost of others, has not as yet effected a sufficient informed desperation for us to actually topple Zuma and his administration. Because privilege.
The desperate not only uphold the privileged in good times but they often also have the power to save them during bad times. We saw this with the students during the #FeesMustFall campaign and the subsequent call that they must fuel the #ZumaMustFall campaign as well. The privileged criticise them while they’re doing what needs to be done, and reap the benefits after it’s done. It is the privilege of the privileged to stack up social awareness points by venerating the selfless months or years after their blood has been mopped up. The moppers, the cleaners, the gardeners and the fixers – they are the true custodians of freedom. Not those who turn freedom into a chic sound-bite after the dust has settled.
South Africans are in a desperate situation but not all South Africans are desperate for the situation to improve. Let’s face it. Those who have nothing left to lose are given paltry hand-outs that convince them that the government cares for them, and those who still have something to lose think they can bargain with this situation. I’ll Occupy Parliament, but will it be legal? Erm, no? Will my safety be guaranteed? I’ll march to the Union Buildings, but can we do it during the public holiday? I’m working during the week. I can only protest one of the causes of unemployment on the day that I’m allowed to take time off the place where I am employed. I’m not desperate enough. Because privilege.
I stayed up very late at night reading tweets and Facebook statuses around the #ZumaMustFall campaign.
Judging by the status updates and tweets of some of its members, the DA route is that current problems can and must be solved at the voting booth (or in court, where they live). Protest cannot be captured or converted into parliamentary seats. Votes and court rulings can be parcelled into neat campaign points. It’s the Party’s privilege to ask us whether we can channel current desperation into future elections.
As I pointed out yesterday: as long as we’re willing to negotiate with the way things are, the government will have another card to play. Dictatorship and state failures aren’t events: they are processes. And baby, we’re in process.
Everybody knows what has to happen: we need to go to National Assembly in great, great numbers, from the soonest working hour, and #OccupyParliament until a list of demands is met. Demand one: #ZumaMustFall.
Privilege produces plastic people. Zuma isn’t going to fall because those who have more to lose will risk less. The tragedy – what could have been – is that if we’d just showed up and occupied, together, we could have minimized the risk to ourselves anyway.
Freedom, you remain so near yet so far. We could grope about and finally find you in this darkness. But we are blinded by the bright, white light of privilege. Makubenjalo.
Siya Khumalo blogs about religion, politics and sex
Please follow and share @SKhumalo1987