The Protestor Has No Clothes Onby Lindokuhle Nkosi / 18.10.2011
Remember the nineties? Remember the over-sized low-slung jeans, one-leg turned up over Timberlands. Remember the ski glasses, doo-rags and luminescent Fubu sweatshits? Remember how silly we sounded; slanging, twanging, yo yo homesing? We were the quintessential picture of inauthenticity. A MacDonalds Mcburger being sold at a Shisa-nyama as a Makhathini. We all knew something was amiss, but still South Africa spawned its own generation of dawgs and wigga’s. All genuine members of the Republic, desperate for their slice of the American dream.
And so like exposed Tommy Hilfiger underwear, like Slutwalk and the word “swag”, we’ve imported a movement created by Americans for Americans, slapped on a “South African sounding” name “Operation Ubuntu” and with the click of a Facebook Like button… we have a revolution.
Someone somewhere decided that the 15th of October was World Revolution Day, but we don’t know what we’re revolting against. I’ve been invited to join the group and say “enough is enough”, but no-one knows enough of what? As the twitter masses (I use this term very loosely) gather on the pavement outside a closed JSE; while across the road at Sandton City, tills ring and cards are swiped. Curious bypassers wonder what the handful of protestors is angry about, the protestors wonder too.
Occupy South Africa – Operation Ubuntu is a “leaderless, resistance movement”. Their mission statement consists of paraphrased quotes
from Zeitgiest 1 and 2, conversations held in Newtown at one o’clock in the morning over green tea and a spliff. The calls range from anything like economic freedom to self-sustenance and reliability. Haven’t we heard this before? Has this not been Julius Malema’s much decried stance? So now when an anonymous person in a V for Vendetta mask says the exact same thing, it suddenly makes sense?
In our haste to keep up with the Kardashians, we imported the movement as is, not once stopping to see if it indeed was the right fit. Would a social media campaign penetrate to all the relevant spheres of South Africa? If protestors turned up in the same numbers as they did in the U.S, how would they fit on a 5m wide pavement? The New York protestors specifically Occupied Wall Street because their largely unregulated banking system fucked them over. Does the JSE hold similar significance to South Africans? And most importantly, what are we protesting? These questions found their humiliating response in the crowd, which at its largest, consisted of less than a 150 people. And the lack of common purpose meant the protestors were left fighting amongst themselves. Protestors from Thembisa wanted basic services, protestors from Bryanston wanted their potholes fixed, while some complained that their occupation had been hijacked by protestors singing songs that the others couldn’t understand. At 17h30, less than six people remained.
The major downfall of OccupyJse was the lack of an actual cause. Their mission statement relied heavily on the notion of a unified consciousness, without ever clarifying what that consciousness is? Rebranded Operation Ubuntu (to give it some local flavour of course), it evokes the South African ideal of unity, of a person’s humanity being informed by their interactions with others; and yet, aside from giving it a name that we as South Africans are familiar with, nothing has been done to make this a movement driven by South African desires and issues. And while I’d like to be able to laud the movement for its noble intent, no real intentions have been made clear. The “whoever you are, whatever grievance you have” attitude has watered down what could been a very powerful opportunity to direct and channel anger towards a national goal – and turned into something a lot like the comments section of the Sandton Chronicle. A lot of bitching, but not enough relevant cause for complaint.
*All images © Lindokuhle Nkosi.