Best of 2012 | The Muck of Agesby Brandon Edmonds / 27.12.2012
Originally published 01 February 2012
I’ve been meaning to get out of the house and protest. Marx laid down the law for anyone even vaguely aggrieved with how society is run: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world; the point is to change it.” That’s a pretty clear injunction to get off our complacent asses and see what needs to be done.
In fact, for Marx, getting off your ass and fighting for change is the only way to see what needs to be done. “The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-change can be… understood only as revolutionary practice.” Fighting for change changes us for the better. We become different people because activism connects us to a fuller sense of who we are. Fighting for change is the only way to, as Marx put it, get rid of “all the muck of ages” (all the doubts, fears and social deceptions) that stops us from bravely speaking out and making the effort to make a difference.
But the muck of ages is smeared on pretty thick. Mine is a second skin by now. I’m lazy, I’m cynical, I’m slow to anger. I wish I was more stirred up than I am. I know I should be more committed and concerned but I’m easily distracted. I haven’t taken the time to get inspired by revolutionary moments in history. I haven’t bothered to make the necessary connections between the frustrations in my own life and the violent inequality in the world around me. The two haven’t come together in my mind in a way that’ll motivate me to do something about it. Plus I have the crutch of writing which is a very passive and seductive form of protest. Is the consumption of more ideas and data and the creation of better ways to deliver and package them all helping to change the world? I’m not sure that it is. We just kinda feel overwhelmed.
So here’s why I didn’t make it to the Occupation of Rondebosch common. It’s a public scraping off of the muck of ages so that next time I’ll have no excuses for not being there. Maybe you could tell me yours?
1. I didn’t fully explore who was involved and what the issues are exactly. (I now know it was a 3-day “People’s Jobs, Land & Housing Summit” put together by organisations like SA NGO Coalition, Proudly Mannenberg, Passop and the Gugulethu Anti-Eviction Campaign).
2. It was a very hot day and I’m a large mammal.
3. My life is fairly okay. The toilet flushes. There’s DSTV. I buy organic rotisserie chicken from Woolworths and am writing this on a Macbook Pro. That may not make me, as Marx once put it, “a bribed tool of reactionary intrigue” (like Ivo Vegter), but I’m not exactly burning with revolutionary fervour. More like gas from that rotisserie chicken.
4. The photographer and I drove out to Athlone Stadium. Instead of finding the kick-off to a protest we walked into National Police Day. Capitec bank had a free massage & chill out trailer. Braai’s were going. Cops everywhere. Push-ups and relay races. A PA voice kept repeating “Support your Cordon”. I thought he was saying “colon”. It really kicked us in the balls and we lost our momentum.
4. The police throttled the Occupation by “preemptive detention”. They stopped protesting communities from reaching the commons by re-routing busses and cordoning off streets. Most people didn’t make it out of the township. This meant the photographer and I were faced with an empty common when we arrived.
5. The photographer has very pretty ankles and I was happy when she suggested we get a drink instead of waiting around.
6. I was relieved that the common was empty. Ever since seeing “The Uprising of Hangberg” last year, a scary record of the brutal DA-sanctioned police assault on the Hout Bay “squatters”, I’ve had a thing about eyes. Several people were shot in the face in the raid and police seemed to have deliberately targeted their eyes. Nothing sends a don’t you dare message to potential agitators like an enucleating rubber bullet. The violence of Hangberg has entered my bloodstream. I’m afraid of the police.
7. It really was hot.
Turns out while the photographer and I were getting drunk, police pepper sprayed an old guy, part of the small clutch of protesters who finally made it to the common. They drove Casspirs all over the protected area. They assaulted young women and sprayed people with blue dye. Then used tear gas and water cannon to restore the common to the joggers and dog-walkers. The Mayor of Cape Town, Patricia De Lille, warned: “All that remains at the end of these short diversions is more pain, suffering, conflict and violence. And when we descend there, we will forget where we were going, forever.” But scraping off the muck of ages is the only way to forge new paths.