People are angry and governments must take the blame

Contrary to Kenya, protesters held peaceful march to Parliament in SA

In Summary

• Police accompanied them to ensure order, not to vent their own frustrations 

Image: OZONE

For most angry, frustrated Africans, things like political parties, ethnic and religious affiliation are secondary, if not tertiary, considerations.

What they want is for the people they elected to govern, and for those whose role it is to oversee the actions of the government, to get a handle on the various economic crises.

These include corruption, unemployment, crime and what South Africa’s largest trade union federation Cosatu recently referred to as “sustained attacks on worker's rights in general”.

Governments are aware of these issues. Even though some would prefer to bury their heads in the sand and hope the storm will pass to leave them to enjoy the trappings of power in peace.

In some places such as Kenya, when the people remind the government of their duty, instead of responding with humility, the government responds first with arrogance and threats. And when that does not work, they visit violence and death on the citizenry.

This cycle has been “rinse and repeat” since colonial times, and after 60 years of Independence, you would think that Kenyan governments would have some sort of institutional memory that told them this approach is unsuccessful.

Back in 1997, while still in the early years of Multiparty Season Two, (that's how I will refer to the post-1992 dispensation from now on, to distinguish it from the 1963-69 period); while still in that phase, the Inter-Parties Parliamentary Group (IPPG) came up with a reforms package that some of us naively thought would sort out this issue once and for all.

The IPPG measures were constitutional reforms intended to avoid bloodshed ahead of elections expected to take place later that year.

If I recall correctly, the reforms were announced ahead of a campaign of mass action intended to force the government to agree to reforms and planned by the opposition-backed National Convention Executive Council.

The reforms provided for, among other things, guidelines for public protests or demonstrations.

This should have been unnecessary had successive Kenyans governments paid any attention to the fact that Kenya is a State Party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. 

Article 21 of this convention governs the right of peaceful assembly and provides that: “The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognised. 

“No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law.

“And which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

Recently in Cape Town, I reported on a public protest led by Cosatu and affiliated unions. These included the South African Municipal Workers' Union, the Police and Prison Civil Rights Union, South African Democratic Teachers' Union and the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa.

The march began with a gathering at a university campus just on the outskirts of the CBD, and then a noisy but orderly march to the provincial headquarters, where the provincial legislature sits.

Here, the protestors were meant to hand over their petition to the Premier. However, he delegated this to a member of the provincial Cabinet.

When the protesters arrived with their leaders and a van on top of which their leaders stood to address them using a public address system, they sang and danced and were generally peaceful as they waited for the provincial official to come and take their petition.

When after about 30 minutes it appeared the official was not coming to meet with them, there was disappointment from the union leaders, who shouted a few choice words at him through the public address system to chastise him for showing disrespect to the protesters.

Then the protesters carried out an about-turn and headed to their next destination, the national Parliament. There, their petition was received by an official from the Speaker’s office, and then the day’s protest was over and the workers went home.

All the while, they were accompanied by a contingent of police whose presence was to ensure an orderly march and to control vehicular traffic.

They were not there to vent their own frustrations on the marchers.

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