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Why Black Tuesday was more important than world peace

On Tuesday November 22 people all over South Africa wore black clothes to mark their displeasure at the Protection of Information Bill that was due to be voted on in the National Assembly. The so-called Black Tuesday initiative seems to have been the brainchild of Yusuf Abramjee and Primedia. It was supported by a large number of South Africans, myself included, marking it as one of the more successful protests in recent years.

Hey, man, it's Black Tuesday. Or as we like to call it, Tuesday

But as with every popular protest (Slutwalk comes to mind), you get the cavillers and the naysayers — those who take to their columns, their blogs, and their social media to croak out their opposition to whatever initiative is currently enjoying support. In the case of Black Tuesday, the croaking took the following forms:

1) Every protest must contextualise itself within the greater struggle against capitalism / patriarchy / the illuminati lizards. This protest only addressed a single issue and therefore I will not support it.

2) There are greater issues to worry about in the world such as poverty / starvation / inequality / the theft of our brains by the illuminati lizards. Where were you slacktivists when the Verdwaal Four died of starvation and exposure outside Lichtenburg?

3) Journalists are generally lazy / lying / thieving / in league with the illuminati lizards. Why have they only woken up so late to this issue? I don’t like journalists and therefore I will not support this protest.

4) Did you really believe that wearing black was going to change Parliament’s mind? Well, it didn’t, so nyah nyah.

It is undoubtedly true that there are more pressing and heartbreaking issues in this world than a couple of less-than-ideal clauses in a bill before the South African Parliament. But it remains curiously difficult to summon much collective indignation for these. This is not, I believe, due to the fact that we are all callous or complacent monsters, but rather to the incredibly monolithic and daunting nature of these challenges.

When we confront issues like “patriarchy” or “hunger” or “inequality” we find ourselves staring at a vast and intractable cliff-face of injustice that seems almost impossible to break down. These are problems that have always been with us, and possibly always will. And yes, undoubtedly, it remains our duty to do what we can to ameliorate these problems, whether we are Bill Gates donating billions to protect children from malaria, or a single individual donating R10 to a charity feeding scheme.

But it is almost impossible to raise public indignation to a flashpoint against issues that are huge, timeless and seemingly insoluble. Rather like the beauty queen who promises to devote her reign to achieving world peace, we soon begin to suspect we may have bitten off more than we can chew.

I knew I should have mentioned world peace!

And just like that beauty queen should rather pick one small issue to tackle, we are more inclined to take on manageable challenges that we might actually be able to overcome. Because that’s the thing about the Protection of Information Bill — it is still possible to change it. The bill has not yet been passed into law, and if sufficient public indignation is raised the government may yet amend it, particularly if international investors become uneasy.

That is the main difference between this issue and that of the Verdwaal Four. While the circumstances that led to those children’s deaths require urgent investigation and attention, no amount of public protest is going to make them any less dead. The tragedy has already occurred, and remains, horrifically, irreversible. The Protection of Information Bill is not irreversible and will hopefully never become so.

As for not liking journalists and therefore choosing not to support their protest — if you don’t know that a free, unshackled, nosy, interfering, dogged and upstart media is the biggest guarantee of your own personal freedom you could ever hope for, you almost deserve to live in a society that doesn’t have one. Yes, the bill has been pending for many months, but to say that journalists have not taken action until now is woefully ignorant. Journalists and writers have been raising the issue in the media ever since it was first mooted, and several protests and vigils have been held outside Parliament to protest against it.

Regarding the fourth criticism about whether any of the Black Tuesday activists really believed that they were going to change the way the National Assembly voted, that is absolutely not the point. Did the 20 000 women who marched on the Union Buildings in 1956 really believe that they were going to change the Pass Laws? No, they probably didn’t. And no, they did not succeed in their goal. In fact, the restrictions on the movement of black women grew steadily more draconian over the next 38 years. But we still remember and celebrate their heroism every single year, and their slogan “You strike a woman, you strike a rock” has entered the national consciousness. Nobody asks why they bothered.

When you live in a democracy, you get to vote on who will lead the country every five years or so. If you don’t like what the ruling party is doing during those five years, there are various options open to you. You can mark your displeasure by throwing rocks, planting bombs or shooting people, or you can stage a non-violent protest. In this particular case violence was not called for because despite what the more hysterically inclined among us believe, the secrecy bill is not in fact “exactly like apartheid”. But it’s not good either, and that is why Black Tuesday was what it was — a non-violent protest against a government that is attempting to take away our freedom of access to information.

It was an important and necessary show of solidarity for the journalists who could be deprived of their liberty for 20 years at a time for publishing the truth. I have never apologised for my decision to participate in that show of solidarity, and I never will.

Author

  • Fiona Snyckers is outrageously opinionated for a novelist-housewife. She is the author of the Trinity series of novels, and hopes to continue getting paid to make stuff up.

17 Comments

  1. Bongani Bongani 23 November 2011

    I posted this on my facebook recently, “To my South African friends, first it’s a bill passed through a sleeping parliament, then it’s an amendment to the constitution, then it’s firing judges who don’t agree with said amendments, then its bombing independent newspapers. Before you know it, you’ll be left staring at the ruins of democracy and wondering when it all happened #been-there-done-that”. And I couldn’t agree more, as a Zimbabwean, the perilous path to where we are began with the tampering of the law, the shutting down of media houses and the arresting of journalists to the point that we began to find out things long after it was too late and by then the slide to disaster had long embraced us in her grip and it was too late. Your rights, your freedoms, your democracy, the very foundation of this nation are under threat. And like most real world threats, it all begins so slowly, a bill here, a bill there and disaster.

  2. Sipho Sipho 23 November 2011

    If truth be told the campaign was poorly attended. Seeing that Malema is out of job, the organisers should have enlisted his proven organising services.

  3. Shaman sans Frontieres Shaman sans Frontieres 23 November 2011

    A good essay, Fiona. There are countless needs in SA at present. There is desperation and profound sadness and abjection. There is arrogance and theft and corruption. There is a concerted attempt by the ANC party in power to overrule any contrary opinion and to defend their own cadres at the expense of social justice, criminal justice, and integrity.

    Everything we get to know is via the media, the press. Once the press is shut down from independent investigation, we will no longer have any trust in any aspect of public life. Since the ANC in Parliament is willing to tamper with civil liberties we look to other sectors within the state and nation to defend us, and the free press is the most significant in this regard.

  4. Tofolux Tofolux 24 November 2011

    What was extremely distressing is the fact that many of those who protested against this bill DID NOT READ the bill, What is extremely distressing is the blanket campaign of fear and untruths peddled in the media. Objectively, noting that there are many good aspects of the Bill, one wonders what it is that makes media so uncomfortable. They have mooted this and that but most of what they have mooted is total untruths. What then lies beneath this manipulation of the truth. I think the reason that media has been pushed is simply because this bill affects their bottom-line. It affects their PROFITS. It is a fact that they have made lots of money peddling lies. It is a fact that they have made lots of money out of the usual suspects. Media is not an elected structure and they represent a few, a minor minority. So why do they feel their rights is more important than those they make their profits from. Ben Turok also runs a magazine so even he needs to pay staff from profits. So really, we must be reminded of the antics of the Rupert Murdoch’s and his influence over Presidents of countries. One must be reminded of the charlatan behaviour of journalists, who fabricated stories, who tapped phones, who scratched in dustbins to fabricate stories. Media as we all know, have lost their moral high ground. And now, they want to peddle themselves as the soothsayers, the truth. WHen basically most of the profits , was made from untuths!

  5. Dave Harris Dave Harris 24 November 2011

    C’mon Fiona, why have you so carefully avoided speaking of the number of protesters at this event?
    It was revealing that there were more votes for the Protection of Information Bill in parliament, than there were “Black Tuesday” protesters!!! So who’s interests do the opposition of this bill really serve?
    The pathetic turnout, looking like bunch of rabid DA supporters with their teagirls and gardeners says it all.

  6. cyberdog cyberdog 24 November 2011

    Sipho, You make a valid point, however I doubt if melema will be much of assistance, as he is part of the problem. He has just as much at stake with this bill as the rest of the corrupt ANC.

  7. The Creator The Creator 24 November 2011

    Yes, advertising agencies have always been in the forefront of liberation struggles.

    Sigh.

  8. Peter Joffe Peter Joffe 24 November 2011

    Evil can only succeed when and if good men do nothing. Let us call the bill what it really is, The Protection of Corruption Bill (POCB). I am most amused at the number of people who feel that we should not object to the likes of the bill in general and lets say Maharaj, in particular. Who’s money did Maharaj allegedly steal? It was our money, it was the DA’s money, it as the ANC’s money, it was the people of South Africa’s money, it was our money so we all should ask about it. The Protection of Corruption Bill will see to it that was is done with our money, is none of our business. Corruption is the number one first step to a failed state. I wonder how much has already been stolen and with the ANC’s policy of unaccountability we will never get OUR money back or know how much has been stolen.
    Why should we pay taxes when those who collect those taxes can simply take it for themselves.? The POC bill is the start to open looting and the only way we will know is when the country grinds to a complete halt. Last nights news showed us how are hospitals are grinding to a halt as they have no money. Look in the ANC fat cats back accounts and you will find it there.

  9. Graham Johnson Graham Johnson 24 November 2011

    Thre were a considerable number of us in my company (above 80%) that wore black to signal our protest.
    As you say, Fiona, it was not in the expectation that anything would change, it was for history to show that people do oppose idiocy, even if the idiots outnumber the opposers.
    We will never apologise. The ANC is running out of money (borrowing is now 50% of GDP) and has to protect its sources. What did we expect?.

  10. just askin just askin 24 November 2011

    the nationalist party used to feed us the nonsense that stuuf was banned from publication as it was in the national interest when in fact it was in the national parties interest NOT the national interest. an important South African was asked if he had to choose between the right to have a free press or the right to a vote for all what would he choose and he said the right to a free press as he knew its value in obtaining and maintaining a democracy. that man was Nelson Mandela!
    the ANC has dragged South Africa back into the dark days of censorship in the national interest which now has become the african national congress interest so they are no better than the nationalists the despised. it is indeed a black day for South Africa and all its people and any goverment department can now declare any information prohibited in the National interest. the ANC is no different to the Nats and the corruption of absolute power corrupts absolutely. all corruption can now be hidden from view in the national interest just like the Nats did for all those years.
    every day will be a black days until this disgrace is removed from our statute books.

  11. Judith Judith 24 November 2011

    Whilst not huge numbers attended the protests, huge numbers wore black in solidarity. Internet activity was strong and information moved at speed. The opposing organisations have good membership

  12. Sipho Sipho 24 November 2011

    just askin writes “the nationalist party used to feed us the nonsense that stuuf was banned from publication as it was in the national interest when in fact it was in the national parties interest NOT the national interest.”

    At least in your case material benefits accrued, surely the NP wasn’t that “bad”.

  13. MLH MLH 25 November 2011

    The possibility is that this bill will also affect the way the media looks at news. Will there be no more good news stories, no appeals after disasters, no reporting on news the ANC government hopes to get out there? Perhaps big business will also be affected and will stop donating to worthy causes. I read a story about SKA just now and wondered whether SA might not have done herself irreparable damage on that score. What organisation would want to come into a country when it remembers how the last censorship laws ended…with companies finally ejecting themselves and still involved in court cases about supporting apartheid. It is important in these supposedly fleeting moments to look at history and understand how it is repeating itself.

  14. Nicholas Nicholas 26 November 2011

    @ Dave Harris. I think you are on the wrong side of history with your observation this time. When a party elder like Turok opposes this Bill and its odious implications for our increasingly authoritarian democracy; when an ANC alliance ally threatens to take the issue to Concourt itself should the core problematic stalinist elements of the law not be modified to allow citizen oversight of what those who we elect choose to do with the power we devolve to them then we are no longer visualising your inherently racist paradigm involving DA madams And their gardeners.

    This is an inherently bad piece of law and inevitably prompts comparisons with the Zanufication process for noting which another Party stalwart, Jeremy Cronin, was
    taken to task some years ago and to which another commentator here, Bongani, referred talking about the demise of Zimbabwe.

    It can take a hundred years to build a respectable reputation and one bad law to bring it crashing down.

    It is my opinion that the name and region of every ANC member who voted for this flawed piece of law should be published somewhere other than in Hansard which no one sees so that in time those people can explain to their grandchildren why they voted to destroy the freedom so many died to achieve.

  15. Dave Harris Dave Harris 26 November 2011

    @Nicholas
    You see no problem with the opposition for this bill, which has caused delays for over TWO YEARS, primarily coming from a tiny minority in the media beholden to their corporate masters.
    Other stalwarts of the party sometimes differ with the party line, as in ANY democracy, and that is OK too. Divergent voices are healthy to any democracy but not at the expense of undermining the democratic processes.
    Our media mafia routinely engages in the abhorrent practice of taping conversations without consent or using classified information out of context together with fabricated evidence from the Sunday Times etc. to launch personal character assassinations on public officials in their gutter politics. They have no qualms about circumventing our democratic processes like the commission of inquiry to oppose this important POI Bill.
    Do the ends justify the means?

  16. Rory Short Rory Short 26 November 2011

    As someone who was born at the start of WWll and whose father fought the Nazis in North Africa and on returning to SA was approached by the National Party to stand for them in the 1948 elections, which elections opened the door to Apartheid, I am totally and utterly allergic to aspects of the POIB which undermine our hard won freedom.

    My father totally rejected the NP’s overtures. Saying, ‘I have just spent 5 years putting my life on the line to oppose Nazism which to me has a similar ethos to what the NP is proposing for South Africa, you must be crazy to expect me to stand for you.’ Don’t worry about what we are proposing, he was told, it is just so that we can get into power and when we do you will have a wonderful opportunity to make lots of money from all sorts of deals that those in parliament know about but others do not.

    What goes around comes around. I am saddened beyond belief to see the ANC, through aspects of the POIB, trying to start us down the same road as the NP followed. Cry my beloved country, cry for the ANC it has lost its way, cry for yourself the ANC is strangling your freedom in the name of national security.

  17. Nicholas Nicholas 26 November 2011

    @Dave Harris: Napoleon Bonaparte famously observed that “Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets”. For that reason governments that seek to hide their more questionable activities from the citizenry have used a multiplicity of repressive measures since forever, to limit access to knowledge. This is the primary reason we have moved so little since the time of Socrates.

    Yes of course the media can be ruthless, scuzzardly knaves at ferreting out the juicy bits that draw readers to their enterprise. That is their job. And public persons have no right to prevent that. Once you have chosen to represent the rights of the citizen in any manor or form: You must be accountable… It’s our money. Right now we seem to resemble Nigeria circa 1990. Do we want that. Do we want to go backwards? What is so important that it can’t be known? Who do we think we are?

    Curiously this piece of legislation may rebound in a most unfortunate manner for the ANC: firstly because no government information will any longer be regarded as “truthful”… that which cannot be verified cannot be believed other than by idiots, and secondly because the day of the ‘newspaper’ as we have always known it, already under fire, will end more rapidly: possibly as soon as 2013.

    Then the ‘media’ will become exclusively digital, operating in ways and from angles that no government that has incurred the displeasure Napoleon feared, will be able to keep pace with…

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