The Busking Protestby Katie de Klee / 11.07.2013
To begin with the crowd was small, a few curious people who were drawn in by the music and the modest circle, drawn in closer by the cameras that had appeared and the placards on the wall. Maybe 50 people were there when the talking started. And, this being St George’s Mall at lunchtime, the crowd steadily began to grow; accidental protestors and the media.
When the singing was finished the toothless drummer smiled. ‘We are still working brothers,’ and he took hold of the peak of his cap, turned its cavernous belly to the crowd. Coins, change from sandwiches and coffees bought in the nearby cafes, were dropped into it.
Joe Peterson, still smiling his toothless smile, says he is the ‘oldest guy around, I’ve been busking since 40 years ago around here. We [the buskers] love each other, can’t you see that? We talk with each other all the time.’
Yesterday, on the corner of Shortmarket Street – in the very spot where busker Lunga Goodman Nono was arrested by three policemen who broke his guitar and dragged him away while his wife stood crying, a peaceful protest took place. Unusually (and thankfully) no human shit was thrown around, nothing was burned and no one was arrested; but music was played to demonstrate that what happened here was unacceptable. It takes a small spark to start a flame.
Gavin Ebden, his rasta dreads tied up, stood in the middle of the circle, raised his fist to the air and said this was the most beautiful protest he had ever seen. Reggae is the voice of this crowd.
‘It was them that called the police to come,’ says Ebden pointing to the shop across the corner. MTN is closed today, it’s glass doors locked tight. ‘They are new to this block, they must go now.’ His words ripple across the crowd like a skimming stone.
Nono was issued a R500 fine for noise disturbance and then a further R1000 rand fine for resisting arrest. But Ebden takes a business card from his pocket to show me: one Igshaan Higgens, attorney at law, has committed to helping Nono in court, pro bono. Now that promise is in print.
Eyewitness accounts say that the police reasoned with him, but he wouldn’t stop. Technically he was breaking one of the city’s new by-laws, but the public outrage turned on a photo that showed the police roughing up the old blind man.
The three policemen who arrested Nono have been suspended, for not ‘keeping with this administration’s commitment to building a Caring City’. So said Cape Town’s director for Safety and Security, Richard Bosman, in a bizarre public statement that goes on to celebrate ‘the sterling work that the majority of the City of Cape Town’s Law Enforcement Officers do in their line of duty every day.’
Bosman then goes on to say, “Last night, I received a call from Mr Nono’s brother, Lungiswa Goodwell Nono, who had lost all contact with him. He had read about this incident and asked for his brother’s current contact details. Earlier this morning, they made contact for the first time in a decade. It is pleasing that out of this unfortunate incident, the silver lining of the reuniting of these brothers has occurred.”
Talk about accentuating the positives. And I paraphrase loosely: ‘If our officers hadn’t fucked up a blind busker, broken his guitar and elicited massive public outrage, we would never have reunited Mr Nono with his long lost brother! Three cheers for us. You see: This city works for you!”
Truth is, if no one had seen them and no photographs taken, those three officers would still be at work.
* Images © Mikhail Hendricks