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Shit Slinging, the Media and Occupy#South Africa

Shit Slinging, the Media and Occupy#South Africa

by Chris McMichael / Images by Timothy Gabb / 01.11.2011

The local versions of occupywallstreet# were treated by the mainstream SA media as having no bearing on our social context. As if protesting against political and economic elites, who are privatising the future, has no relevance to South Africa. The admittedly small occupations were treated as incomprehensible: lacking a program and painted as the meaningless boutique protests of a spoiled, confused middle class.

In Grahamstown, the call to occupy was issued by Rhodes-based Students for Social Justice (SSJ) and the Unemployed Peoples Movement (UPM). Niren Tolsoi, who did his research, wrote in the Mail & Guardian, that this was not just the project of hipsters jumping on the political bandwagon. But the product of months of serious engagement and consultation with the poor and a range of indignant members of the middle classes. An innovative combination, in fact, which marks a potentially epochal new solidarity in South African politics. Last seen in the glory days of the UDF.

Shit proceeded to get real when protesters expressed their displeasure with Grahamstown’s notorious bucket system by delivering actual shit samples into the foyer of the city hall. A country that can afford to host the World Cup can’t seem to scrape together the cash needed for basic sanitation in many rural areas. Even the Romans managed to combine huge stadium projects with decent toilets!

Occupy Grahamstown

Rather than focusing on the amorality of a social set up forcing people to live in these debased conditions, Steven Lang from Grocott’s Mail was having none of the shit slinging. In a breathless piece, that used the same severe tone normally reserved for war reporters bunkered down in fucking Gaza, Lang detailed how he wandered into the “mayhem”. And wondered whether the municipality needed to improve its security? To his credit, Lang did allude to all of this being part of an international campaign, part of a wave of protest gathering steam since the Arab Spring. The inter-connectedness of all this, the historic importance of people assembling and making history for themselves, has been lost or downplayed by the mainstream media. They seem to think this is business as usual, rather than the end of the neoliberal era.

Occupy Grahamstown

The meaning of the protests was certainly lost on SABC news anchor Mike Procter–Sims, beamed down from broadcast HQ to cover the event. “Cover” here is a euphemism since it implies actual physical exertion. Procter-Sims prefered chilling by his rental car while his camera-woman did all the work. He did suggest that “service delivery protests” need a leader to deliver a convenient soundbite-sized list of demands. Confronted with the fact that non-hierarchical public gatherings of this nature don’t have a vanguard leadership, Procter-Sims gave the nation a lesson in realpolitik along the lines of: “in future you need to have demands and a programme, because it makes our job easier”. Really grabbing the investigative bull by the horns there, Mike.
One of the strengths of the Occupy movement is, of course, the principled refusal of programmatic, packaged demands. Politicians love demands so they can pretend to be solving them. Protest via General Assembly breaks the distancing circuit of representitive democracy by taking power rather than giving it away to “leaders”.

Over at The Daily Maverick, Chris Vick suggested that Occupy# is just the latest frivolous youth protest. In “Waging Class Struggle, the Playstation way” – he notes the apparent irony of using the internet, the fruit of consumer capitalism, to organise the protests. Vick sounds so disaffected by the whole thing, as if he has far better things to do. He specialises in the supercilious tone of a career journalist who doesn’t like the boat rocked too much.
“On Saturday morning, once I’ve walked the dogs, had a double espresso at Vovotello, checked out the new suits at Paul Smith, and hosed down my Mini, I think I’ll idle over to to Sandton and check out the occupation… but I’ll take my Playstation with me. Just in case.”
Vick pretends this is an isolated incident. That the wasteful system of consumption and inequality is forever. He refuses to entertain the possibility that capitalism is no longer the best way to ensure a decent life for us all. That it is quite clearly, spectacularly failing. As the bank bail outs show, the system is a vampire, feeding on the commons and in continual crisis. How much more public resources and wealth must pass into private hands before Vick yells enough?

Occupy Grahamstown

The criminal actions which lead to the financial crisis, the catalyst for the occupations, were not the work of a few coked up sociopaths in the banking industry but the result of decades of corporate led malfeasance and plunder without oversight, regulation or control.

Conglomerates like Sony, who make the Playstation namechecked by Vick, outsource production to modern slave factories. They use paid for political power to threaten countries with disinvestment when held to international labour standards and basic social rights. Anything that makes cheap labour more expensive. Even the most ardent of libertarians has to acknowledge that this has nothing to do with a free market. In genuine democracies elected officials ought to expose, not shield, corporate power to public accountability. Instead, corporate values rule. Why should the lion’s share of the world’s wealth be in the hands of a small pool of transnational oligarchs and their hangers-on?

New forms of politics are resistant to easy definition. They don’t slot into the available formats. Media hacks hate having to think too hard. Hate having to get their heads around the fact that millions believe that the only way to create a future worth living is to confront and reject the profit system. The mainstream media is threatened by a fifth estate: a democratic public making the daily news their own.

Occupy Grahamstown

Occupy Grahamstown

Occupy Grahamstown

*All images © Timothy Gabb.

17   7
RESPONSES (26)
  1. Clompski says:

    It’s hard to know where to start calling bollocks’ on this article. If this is the average mentality of the OWS protester we’re deeper in shit than Rhodes University.

    “As the bank bail outs show, the system is a vampire, feeding on the commons and in continual crisis.”

    The bank bailouts were not a failure of capitalism. The bank bailouts were a direct result of government intervention in the economy, acitivies usually associated with socialism. According to the capitalist system the banks should have been allowed to fail, the investors should have taken the losses, and public taxes should not have been used to keep them afloat. Government did it. Get it?

    If the government can pick economic winners and losers you end up with the present system – corporatism, or maybe call it fascism. Collusion between big government, banking and big business. Without the government having the jurisdiction to intervene in the economy those banks would have failed. No more corporatized profits socialised losses.

    “The criminal actions which lead to the financial crisis, the catalyst for the occupations, were not the work of a few coked up sociopaths in the banking industry but the result of decades of corporate led malfeasance and plunder without oversight, regulation or control.”

    Holy fuck. The financial crisis (in America at least) is the result of the monetary and banking system and over-intensive government regulation of the economy. Sony is exporting jobs to 3rd world countries because government regulations have made it cheaper for it to do so. This in turn allows Sony to sell affordable items to the greatest number of people, who one assume feels they benefit from owning these things since they then buy them – if you don’t like it don’t buy Sony products?

    Don’t ask your government to make them stop, that’s so retarded and paternalistic. And it’s sure as fuck not the 1% that’s buying Sony products – I think you’ll find them quite widely distributed amongst the 99%, along with various other fruits of the capitalist system.

    So now, fellas like you want to give this government – that has been hijacked by corporate interests – more power to regulate, more power to control the lives of private individuals. And you think this will end the problem? Good luck with that pal. As I said in a previous thread, you’re inviting yourself to a banker’s snuff party.

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  2. Anonymous says:

    Most decent articles which dare to question the truth of the neo-liberal TINA rammed down our throats since childhood, attract libertarian fluffers of the financial elites trolls like Clompski for some reason…

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  3. M says:

    “As if protesting against political and economic elites, who are privatising the future, has no relevance to South Africa.”

    You talk about relevance to South Africa, and then attempt to adopt a protest from the Global North in an attempt to unify the UPM and SSJ, when South Africa’s unemployment and infrastructural problems stem from reasons very different to those that catalyse corruption and conflation of the state and corporate in the Global North? Talk about out of touch.

    Maybe the media would be more willing to engage with your tableaus if Rhodes students would create something organic. Occupy Grahamstown, Slutwalk Grahamstown – have some imagination for once, and stop caring whether or not your picture runs in the media or whether your political experiments generate conversation. Measure your gains on the ground, in a city of unemployment, where those gains might actually matter.

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  4. brandon says:

    “The bank bailouts were a direct result of government intervention in the economy” – what utter shit. The corporate-led lobbying assault (led by Citigroup) on the Glass-Steagal Act of 1933, which kept commercial and investment bankings separate to shield depositors from risky speculation, was won in 1999 under Bill Clinton when the act was repealed and allowed “mega banks” to bloom (the result of mergers with insurance companies and investment houses). The rest is history. In other words, the second government oversight and regulation was removed and left to the ‘free market’ – globally hazardous venality prevailed. You libertarians are the worst @Clompski.

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  5. US of Arseholes says:

    @Clompski
    Since you seem to have had your head stuck up your ass for the past few decades, you might have missed the fact that the US government is a wholly bought subsidiary of corporate America. The banks bailed themselves out via their government stooges. Socialism it was not…

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  6. Clompski says:

    @Brandon it has gone both ways.The bailouts – the actual harmful bits where the GOVERNMENT (read that again, several times maybe) effectively used taxpayer funds to keep businesses/banks that should have failed afloat. Please explain to me how this is utter shit, or how this represents free market activity. How government keeping businesses from failing is not intervention in the economy. Please, I am looking forward to this.

    Since you think in black and white (I like to think of you as a sort of Bachmann with radical left tendencies), you’ve assumed that I somehow support unbridled capitalism and zero accountability for corporations. You therefore don’t read the bit where I talk about collusion between government, banking and major corporations. Either that or that or you actually couldn’t understand what I was saying.

    I agree with what you’re saying about the Glas-Steagal Act. Hence collusion. They’re co-operating. They’re all fucked up. Corporates will get the government to regulate elements of the economy that benefit them and de-regulate elements of the economy that don’t. I’d love to know where people are even drawing the line between corporates, banking and governments these days since there are revolving doors between all three.

    (Eg. Tony Bliar, Fabian socialist deluxe, who walked out of his post and straight into work with JP Morgan Chase. There are many more examples.)

    What you’re calling capitalism is corporatism/fasicsm. What I have been suggesting is dismantling power structures that would enable the few to rule the many with almost zero accountability.

    I wonder what it is in you, Brandon, that wants so badly to be ruled. What you find so illiberal or annoying about the concept of us being free people who govern ourselves and permit each other the right to live how we choose without any coercion from above.

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  7. Clompski says:

    US of Arseholes – again the black and white thinking – another person trapped in a false dichotomy that you’re not even aware of.

    I claim that the government is a mechanism by which the bailouts were facilitated, that the bailouts prevented free market mechanics, therefore, I don’t want government, I’m a libertarian, I’m whatever.

    The chain of logic there suggests that maybe I’m not the one with my head up my ass, and that maybe you’re about to become the first human being to choke on your own skull.

    Here, since you didn’t ask, is what I think:

    Human beings need bodies to administer public spaces. These bodies need to be 100% accountable to the people who they SERVE. Since these bodies are paid with taxes they are effectively corporations selling an adminstrative service. To this end it isn’t in our best interest to have to choose between one or two of them. It isn’t in our best interests to have to fire, hire, and re-hire the same bunch of people on four year cycles. It is not in our best interests that decisions that affect our communities cannot be made on community level.

    So maybe the concept of government needs to be radically rethought.

    Why is massive centralised government bad? Well this is the bit which you guys seem to struggle with. You’re protesting the misdemeanours of capitalists, while totally failing to appreciate the fact that these misdemeanours have been facilitated by a big centralised government that has extensive reach into the lives of private citizens and the economy.

    You’re thinking, for real, that if you make this same government even more powerful it is somehow going to come to its senses and make everything okay. Um. Okay.

    You’re creating a monster hoping that it will cuddle and love you and then acting surprised when it behaves like a monster. As long as you have big centralised power structures you are going to have people trying to use them to consolidate power and wealth – it doesn’t matter what pretext is used to sell these structures to you. People lie – no really.

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  8. polony says:

    “They seem to think this is business as usual, rather than the end of the neoliberal era.”

    highly doubtful, this statement

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  9. Hard Rain says:

    Wow, the anointed angels of government even have to cater to our excrement. It’s a human right! May they bless us with ablutions from the heavens.

    Seriously, this just sounds like a decent market opportunity. Build some nice bathrooms and charge admission or membership etc. Whatever government can provide (and who knows how long that will take) would probably end up being worse than a bucket anyways.

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  10. Hard Rain says:

    “In other words, the second government oversight and regulation was removed and left to the ‘free market’ – globally hazardous venality prevailed. You libertarians are the worst”

    @Brandon

    I’m sorry, a few parts of a piece of legislation from over 60 years ago were repealed and all of sudden “oversight and regulation” were “left to the free market”? I guess I’d just have to ignore the government-imposed central banking system, the hundreds of thousands of pages of other regulations and over 100 government agencies policing the financial sector. But there needs to be more, eh? That’ll solve our problems!

    There isn’t a repealed regulation that would have prevented the securitization of mortgages, or prevented banks from holding such securitized mortgages as investments. In fact, it was the government-sponsored enterprises like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that underwrote dodgy loans and made mass-securitization of these timebombs possible.

    The partial lifting of barriers between commercial and investment banking had exactly zero to do with the financial crisis. The Glass-Steagall repeal made U.S. law the same as that of all other countries. No other country ever separated commercial and investment banking activities the way Glass-Steagall did.

    It’s funny, no matter how badly regulators fail, every crisis brings calls to empower them further. Perhaps people ought to realize that government regulatio is not necessarily synonymous with fair and effective oversight. Google “regulatory capture” for more info.

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  11. Anonymous says:

    You have absolutely no idea how to use hashtags.

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  12. Onan the ambidextrous says:

    Ah fuck, man, I’m feeling nauseous. First you mention Steven Lang, a journalist so cautiously conservative he’d be better employed as a roughneck on a rig, he’s that boring. Then you elicit this tiresome drivel from the libertarian shitekops. I feel energy draining from me like someone pulled the bath plug without my permission. Vertigo causes me to lurch, the lights go bright and I break into sweat. These bastards are going to win. They’re going to defend the status quo so effectively we’ll give up and stop trying for a better world. I belch and feel the first heaving convulsion. I desperately cast about for an antidote and am saved by that bucket of shit. Maybe a bucket of shit here and there, strategically placed, like in someone’s limo, will do the trick and bring about a revolution. This glimmer of hope has stopped me from bringing up.

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  13. Robert says:

    Christopher, I appreciate that you mean well and want to make life better for the poor. Your intentions are clearly good at heart. But I suggest you look up the definitions of many of the words you use. Words have meanings. Words like “capitalism” cannot just mean anything you want it to mean. To call bank bailouts an example of “capitalism” is so absurd and confused and wrong on multiple levels, it’s hard to take your article seriously. “Capitalism”, by definition, basically means that people (all people) have the right to earn and keep property (e.g. money, goods) and that nobody is allowed to come take it by force. Bank bailouts literally involve the government taking money by force from the public (the opposite of capitalism on several levels) and giving it to bankers (again, the opposite of capitalism). Probably what you meant is “crony capitalism” or “corporatism”, which are actually completely different to “capitalism”. Words have meanings.

    Again, I appreciate your good intentions, but to effect positive change, good intentions need to be matched with good understanding. This will involve some reading up and learning on your part of what words mean, so you don’t keep using them completely incorrectly and saying incorrect things.

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  14. Clompski says:

    @Gonad the Gonnorheatic

    What a class rebuttal. That’s called bringing a shit-filled nappy to a gunfight.

    You don’t rebut a single thing said by one of us supposed libertarian shitekops with a single rational, factual or logical counterargument – you just insult us, belch and go in search of a bucket of shit to sooth yourself. Welcome to the idiocracy, I guess.

    The cherry on top is saying we’re defending the status quo. This requires a level of incomprehension so profound that it’s actually something to marvel at.

    We’re talking about totally transforming the current system, putting fraudsters/banksters in jail, restoring accountable government for the people by the people, returning rights to the individual, restoring competition so that the man on the street can participate in the economy instead of working as a cubicle slave in a corporation or standing in a benefits queue.

    Yet to you, this means maintaining the status quo. Ah well, enjoy the completion of your enslavement.

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  15. Onan the ambidextrous says:

    @Robert

    Christ, but you sound a pompous prick! You might have a point, but do you have to be so fucking avuncular about it?

    @Shitekopski

    Okay, so I got you wrong. You’re not really a supercilious jerk trying to preserve your privileged way of life by making some cosmetic changes to a fundamentally unfair and unsustainable economic system. You’re far more altruistic than that. And your strategy? Apart from sneering at the Occupiers and the shit slingers?

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  16. Clompski says:

    I’m not sneering, and I consider myself to be a shit stirrer. I totally support the anger and central thrust of the OWS movement, which is change. I’m simply saying that we shouldn’t facilitate ‘change’ that actually enables more of the same – and quite possibly worse. Our masters are experts at subverting and co-opting our disenchantment and using it to more deeply enslave us.

    Strategy? Non-compliance? Ignoring the instruments of state since we empower them by acting as if they control us when they only do by our compliance and acknowledgement of them? A mass default on debts would be fun. Stop supporting corporations by buying their crap, and only buy the stuff we really need, and put that money into companies that have some sort of social environmental conscience. Become as self sufficient as possible. Educate ourselves and others. Keep an open mind. That sorta shit 🙂

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  17. Andy says:

    How come nobody mentioned how kif the photos are?

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  18. US of Arseholes says:

    I was merely pointing out that your observation likening the bailouts to socialism, was not in fact socialism.

    Capitalism is a dynamic thing. It is constantly evolving. In the US it has evolved to what you call corporatism. Capitalism enabled that.

    You then make the same mistake that you accuse me of, not asking you what you think and then going on to tell me what I think.: I want gov to have more control. I don’t.

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  19. Kropotkin says:

    awe Clompski!1

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  20. Jane says:

    You guys are talking very high language. Break it down so us intellectually challenged can understand you, Please? 🙂 I am getting confused as some of what you are saying seems to be agreeing with each other and then on another level you are saying different things. Couldn’t there be a debate etc without the insults etc. It will get us nowhere? 🙂

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  21. Graham says:

    For myself, there is some irony here in that the only thing that can lead to a sustainable improvement in the world’s economic systems is a shift in consciousness. From (the existing) ‘separation’ consciousness to more of a genuine ‘unity consciousness’. How to go about that? By creating a movement based on (good) ‘us’ versus (bad) ‘them’. By posting divisive comments on forum like these?
    Just asking?

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  22. Need work says:

    Capitalism nothing but organised crime, whereas alternative systems are full of nothing but honest, benevolent, altruistic people. of course. I vaguely followed the movement until the disingenuous Michael Moore got involved. He adds about as much credibility to left wing cause as Fox news does to the right wing. That’s when I stopped caring.

    Vote for a different party or something, start your own business, just do anything other than sitting on your arse in public places holding a sign and wearing a ridiculous mask. Pointless beyond belief. This article gets a 9/10 on the shitometer, other than this line, one of the best I’ve read in ages

    “Even the Romans managed to combine huge stadium projects with decent toilets!” Epic.

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  23. TheEnd says:

    To everybody that supports Capitalism. Fuck you all. We’re gonna kill you. We’re gonna work you to death in Gulags. Your children are going to be chemically lobotamised in reeducation camps. We’re gonna set your SUVs on fire with you in them. We’re gonna house six families in every Camps Bay mansion and grow organic paw paws where you once played golf. It’s gonna be Paradise but you won’t enjoy it because you will have been liquidated down to the last piece of yuppie trash.

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  24. Hard Rain says:

    “I was merely pointing out that your observation likening the bailouts to socialism, was not in fact socialism.”

    Right. Not in the orthodox definition of socialism. It’s more along the lines of corporate welfare. However, by implicitly and explicitly under-writing various companies and GSEs, the government can appear, technically, to be owning means of production.

    “Capitalism is a dynamic thing. It is constantly evolving. In the US it has evolved to what you call corporatism. Capitalism enabled that.”

    Oh really? So why were the very first corporations created at the behest of governments? (Google: East India Companies). The corporate structure of a firm is a creature of government regulation. Without all the perks, liability waivers and legislation from government favouring this structure, it would not exist at all.

    The matter we need to distinguish is that private enterprise and competition are not mutually inclusive. ‘Capitalism is about choice. Government intervention is the use of force. When a business uses government subsidies and eminent domain to run its business, that’s not capitalism. That’s not the free market. That’s stealing.’ – Professor Art Carden.

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  25. tumitumitumi says:

    I can’t help but notice that the ANCYL and its working class supporters has their economic justice march and then the middle class has their version. And I’m not sure what to make of the image used of those poor blacks waving their hands in the direction of the camera…looks as if someone was doing a drive-by in the hood, said hi to them and took a pic as they waved back hahahaha!

    It’s not that I don’t care about socio-economic equality, I just can’t take your article seriously enough to engage. BTW you shit on companies like SONY for slave labour and all that while typing on your…what brand is your computer, tv, ipod, cd player ummmm cellphone? Not saying that slave labour is ok at all, but re-look at your understanding of capitalism and globalisation and your argument and then write another article?

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  26. Anchovette says:

    I attended the occupation in Grahamstown and I have to (sadly) admit that there is a part of me that can understand why the media described it as the “meaningless boutique protests of a spoiled, confused middle class.” Although I see the benefits for the people of Grahamstown if the students stand behind them in their struggles, half the students at the protest had no idea what it was about. The majority of the students just sat around chatting to one another while the UPM did all the protesting, and I was ready to throw a ‘bucket of shit’ over the next person to say something like, “well, I just have to be here, I’m a politics student.”

    It also seems strange that SSJ have not responded in any way to the fact that on the day that they emptied the buckets of shit into the city hall foyer, it was a small church group who had hired out the hall for the weekend who suffered the consequences, not the people who the protest was actually targeting. This was a gathering of people who themselves suffer the consequences of the bucket system in the location. Whilst I strongly believe that the UPM and SSJ owe these people a sincere apology articles like this one seem to completely ignore this mistake on their behalf.

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