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Occupy Rondebosch

Notes on a Crushed Protest

by Ben Fogel / Images by Zachary Levenson and Elena Echevarria / 02.02.2012

The media dubbed it the “Battle of Rondebosch Common” but only the police used force. What you really need to know is the opportunistic mayor of Cape Town, Patricia De Lille, fucked up big time. She could have ignored the planned People’s Summit and let it collapse through internal contradictions and organizational failure (as so many protests unfortunately do). Nobody would have noticed except the Neighbourhood Watches and the Ratepayers Associations bent on keeping the poor out of the area. Instead she sent in the storm troopers.

My brief and largely disheartening run-ins with the Occupy SA movement convinced me it was going nowhere. While many involved have admirable intentions it was being held back by the internet “lumpen proletariat”, the old Marxist term for marginalised riff raff, the unwashed loiterers in every city. Internet lumpens are conspiracy theorists, cranks and folks who only exist on message boards and forums, Illuminati dudes, Zeitgeist fanboys and creepy David Icke devotees. Fans of ancient US paleo-conservative politician Ron Paul. This tin-foil hat brigade was killing the local movement far more than any influx of “Cape Town hipsters”. But Occupy Rondebosch Common was a fresh attempt to divorce the movement from the internet lumpens and draw from grassroots community energy, like the old UDF. No middle class hipsters in sight just various community organizations from across the Cape Flats. It wasn’t really even an occupation according to their press statement:

“Tired of waiting for the government to remedy the inequalities and injustices that still impact so many lives negatively, our communities will be gathering to share our stories and our ideas about what can be done to resolve some of the most pressing challenges we face; including rent arrears and evictions, the right to the city, segregation and the poor, and the corrupt delivery of housing and basic services.”

But De Lille deemed it an invasion (of public land) and even appointed a leader (of a leaderless movement) in activist Mario Wanza, who briefly became public enemy number one in the city. Wanza was dubbed the primary organizer of the movement and the media uncritically repeated De Lille’s fabrication. Only Wanza, of the 42 arrested on the day, still faces charges. Thanks to the mayor’s authoritarian paranoia and the influence of the Ratepayers Associations, the police went into complete overkill. Protestors were effectively arrested the moment they left their houses. Hundreds of police were mobilized to prevent people from even getting out of their neighborhoods. Wanza himself was picked up at around 10am.

Occupy Rondebosch

I arrived at the Common at about 3pm with 6 other people. It looked like it was under siege. The police had rolled out their biggest toys. In open defiance of the Regulation of Gatherings Act, the moment we set foot on the common they sent a Casspir to chase us down. Bugger the precious fynbos the Rondebosch community was so desperate to protect. When the police caught up to us, they were unable to answer what law we were breaking, since an assembly of over 15 people counts as a gathering, but there were only 7 of us. One police officer took particular exception to my basic working knowledge of the Gatherings Act and said something about the cops on the other side of the common having a court order but they were unable or unwilling to produce it.

During the brief time we were actually “occupying the common”, a geriatric member of “Protect the Rondebosch Common” (clearly an Illuminati front) admonished us for daring to take over “our common”. So I asked how you can have an exclusive common? He mumbled something and ambled off, in khaki, unmolested by the police.

I suspect Mayor Patricia De Lille initiated the crackdown for two reasons. Firstly, to get one over her long time rival Tony Ehrenreich who she linked to the protest via ex-ANC member Mario Wanza. Secondly, to send a clear message to all the uppity people on the flats who have given both her and her plastic surgery-enhanced predecessor so many problems over the years. Such intense focus on a relatively minor threat to her reign is the mark of paranoia and naked political ambition, showing she is hard on dissent ensures a career as inequality deepens and protests spread.

The mainstream media was happy to go along with the “illegal” nature of the protest without engaging their critical faculties. Constitutional scholar and blogger, Pierre De Vos, in a conclusive post on the legality of the protest wrote:

“The police refused to give permission for the gathering and declared the gathering “illegal”… on what appears to be spurious grounds, arguing that organisers arrived “between 15 and 30 minutes late” for their meeting with police officials and that organisers insisted on having all nine elected representatives present in the meeting as opposed to four.”

Occupy Rondebosch

De Vos further establishes that the city failed to meet with the organizers despite the legal onus placed on the responsible officer to identify and meet with the organizers of the protest, to discuss any potential problems such as traffic disruption which might result from the protest. According to Jared Sacks, a member of Occupy Cape Town, since its inception last year, “Nine representatives arrived after a press conference on Rondebosch Common. They arrived a few minutes late. The City then said they would only let 4 people in. They refused. The City then refused to meet with them and banned the march.” The city failed to reply to numerous emails regarding the protest. This sort of evasive behavior is standard across the country when attempting to organize protests.

Christopher McMichael, who has written about the police militarization and the DA’s “War on the Poor” in Cape Town said, “The City’s actions were indicative of the police response to the Occupy phenomenon throughout the world. They have certainly shown how they can keep up with the ‘world class’ standard set in Oakland or New York. The response was based upon a miltarised outlook of pre-emption. Firstly, they attempted to fear monger through the media and intimidate protesters. Than they used siege tactics at the commons, responding with a massive show of force without provocation. Crowd control throughout the country is getting more aggressive and warlike but its especially interesting in the case of Cape Town because the DA is the first to criticize draconian police actions in ANC-run parts of the country. It also expresses a wider problem in which the SAPS is used to enforce the privatization of urban space.”

The fact remains that you can get arrested in Cape Town for making use of public space for any political cause the mayor does not approve of. Especially when it’s poor people in a rich white suburb. Most of those arrested were working-class women from the Cape Flats. Regardless of the fact that the bullshit charges of “public violence” were dropped on Monday, the police overkill and P.W. Botha style language employed by De Lille is a sign of the increasingly authoritarian criminalization of dissent in the city.

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  1. cnut says:

    The problem is most ‘peaceful protests’ in South Africa (not only here) can quickly turn to ‘lets fuck everything in our path up and burn it’ protests…

    The other problem is I’d harner a guess 40% of the ‘disenfranchised’ ignorantly think ‘occupy’ means ‘give me give me give me’ and another 20% are riff-raff along for trouble..

    It’s a fine-line having the required police presence available should things kick-off and stepping over-the-line into brutality…

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  2. vicknoire says:

    every cnut post kills ten new readers

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  3. Roger Young says:

    A cnut comment is the same as lighting a cigarette off a candle?

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  4. Benjamin says:

    Cnut puts kittens in the microwave.

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  5. Donal Davern says:

    What a cnut.

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  6. Dawg says:

    The only thing more kak than cnut is the Occupy Movement. What a bunch of chops. They are so kak they have no idea what they are actually protesting about. It is only one step away from protesting about the fact that we have to breath to live. Occupy se gat man.

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  7. urk says:

    start here: when the wind blows NW then i can spit from my garden onto the common. and vice versa for the cape doctor.
    as local, i publically stated that i would rather give protesters tea and biscuits than what did happen.
    100% – if they ignored it it would’ve been a little fart in the wind. they could’ve easily talked the day through with th 80 ppl.
    (although one must ackowledge that the disenfrachised masses, economy and inequity is internationally known to threaten the thin veneer of law and order) being nice goes a fuckload further, violence breeds violence. it is deplorable that the reaction as it stands was also in my name. my ugly mug will show up tomorrow for a little rhythmless dancing and biased, opinionated chanting.
    last disjointed remark: you probably encountered Patrick Hurley by description of the clothes. Don’t make the mistake of trivialising what the mumbling, surly old goat has done over very many years. he’s dedicated more hours than you can imagine to the common. similarly, don’t trivialise the rarity and value of the flora (nor expect the fucking cops to get it, assholes), or the value of retaining open public spaces that are relatively clean and safe.
    want to occupy something? fucking de waal park, man. would be better suited and similarly poignant in its positioning.
    or stop fucking talking and start doing.

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  8. Dawg says:

    I also fail to see what the point is of fucking over Rondebosch residents. You have a beef with the government/provincial gov and then you go and stir a whole lot of crap up for middle class peeps who go to work, pay their taxes and mean you no harm. You are making them pawns in some kind of weird fucked up class war where you want them to do what exactly? Crumple up and hand over the keys to their houses when they see the state of your shoes? Give away their earthly posessions or just take a moment to recognise your plight before they jog off to Vida and get on with their day. These are not people who rule you or live idle lives of plenty off your labour no matter what liberal hippies tell you. These peeps have got stuff but they get up and work and if they stop working they end up living next door to you on the flats. They are not your enemy.

    So if you have a beef with gov, don’t sit around making retarded classist commentry by protesting on Rondebosch common…go and rip down city hall. Occupy the DA headquarters or Luthuli House since those okes actually run the show. Make a stand because you have a point. But leave the poor middle managers alone to savour their Saturday off from their grey lives in a grey job that pays but hardly feeds the soul. Most of them agree with you. They also think government is a cockup and as much as you are not receiving shite from gov, these poor cunts are actually working and paying for all that nothing! Imagine that! They are on your side. So why are you squatting on their common and waving posters at them? Get across town and protest where it makes sense.

    And Jesus, if you think Cape Town is not delivering services then you chops should come and see Jozi under the ANC. We are miles behind. Yet you all love how fair it feels to stop pointing fingers at the ANC and start waggling them at the DA. How very democratic and non-racial and fake of you all. I wish upon you a term of ANC governance to see how long it will take Cape Town to beg the DA to come back.

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  9. Benjamin says:

    @Dawg it’s not their common, a common is by definition is for everyone…

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  10. moses says:

    DA is the nu NP with new feminine but equally racist leaders whatever is happenin 2 our ppl is being instigated by people who are supposedly wakin up everyday sayin they are doin it for the upliftment of the poor .These ppl who are treated like a heap of bullshit are the one’s who are goin to bring the majority of the votes to these power hungry, greedy ,overeducated and heartless politicians who’s interest is only to improve their lives on of those closely related 2 them.the money the ironlady uses for botox is enough to buy 2 to 5 ppl a piece of land .but i think the skin around her head is too tight ,suffocatin all oxygen leave nothin but hate and anger for the black majority .i alwas say ppl treat us like crap because our natural abilities make us a threat to them.cape town is owned and ran by whites ,every law, bylaw and security measure was made to keep black ppl out and white ppl in.those protesters where small in number but because they where fightin for the right cause ,the leaders felt intimidated .y should 2 to 6 families share a piece of land whilst our white counterparts are living in posh saburbs with everything they could possibly dream of while blacks and coloureds families have to que up for a simple bucket of water .why should 25 families share one bashed up toilet ,or worse go to relieve urself in the bush when u knw there is afamily in cape town that has 3 toilets in their mansion.blacks will never b free in this city!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  11. cnut says:

    moses my black brother… it’s chumps like you that keep the current swindlers in power!

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  12. moses says:

    a war of puppets

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  13. moses says:

    dawg you should consider urself lucky .jst by being able to comment on this blog,there is a lot of ppl who wanted to say somethin about the ”occupy rondebosch common” but because the are so poor and uneducated they dont even knw whats a blog .what im trying to say is someone is responsible for their livelihoods and of their children,why should these so called leaders promise our ppl heaven and earth before elections ,but fuck up when they have 2 deliver ?what the DA is doing nw aint different frm what the Pw Botha government did to the residents of District six,they claim there is not enough land in Cape Town >I say fuck that ,thats jst a plan to keep the poor poorer and the rich richer,at the end of the day we all need servants and as we all no no master is the same to no slave .Np gave coloureds FEW SEATS IN PALIARMENT all in the name of keepin them on their side of the gun,they did it cos they where few in numbers , the same as Zille ,she brought all these blacks on board for 1 reason only ,TO GET BLACK PPL TO VOTE FOR WHILE SHE IS UNABLE TO RUN ONE SIMPLE PROVINCE.well it might work or actually it is workin.we were once racially divided ,today we are financially divided ,oh DAWG YOU SHOULD READ THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO.IM SURE IT WILL WIPE OUT THE IGNORANCE U HAVE AS AHUMAN BEING IN THIS WORLD

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  14. Odidiva says:

    Thank You for THE TRUTH

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  15. […] movement’ and then briefly as Cape Town mayor Patrica de Lille’s arch-enemy in the build up to the failed occupation of the Rondebosch common. Then he briefly teamed up with de Lille for a photo-op in front on the Mannenberg Human Settlement […]

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  16. Emma says:


    I’m a scholar and I’m writing a paper on Rondebosch Common, I would like to have the contact of Zachary Levenson and Elena Echevarria, who took the first pic in this paper. Would you have it or know how I should proceed to find it?

    Thanks a lot,


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