South Africa

Marikana, Philippi East: The invisible protest

By Barry Christianson 28 May 2013

Lower Main Rd in Observatory (Cape Town) was carefree and festive on this past Saturday. Motor vehicles were replaced with pedestrians, cyclists, rollerbladers, rollerskaters, skateboarders, salsa dancers, martial artists, musicians, artists and more. But not everyone was there to take advantage of the “opened streets”. A group of residents from the Marikana settlement in Philippi East had come to protest against the ongoing illegal evictions that they have been facing since Freedom Day. By BARRY CHRISTIANSON.

The protestors might have chosen the wrong platform to be taken seriously, though. In the midst of party-driven Observatory – the capital of Cape Town’s hippies, artists and students – the protestors hardly attracted a second glance and when they did, it was misunderstood. One Instagram user thought the protest was an “art installation” and the Observatory Improvement District (OBSID) referred to it as the “Marikana play”.

The vibrant songs they were singing seemed to make them fit right in with the crowds, and the general feeling towards the protesters seemed to be one of acceptance – with some passersby showing their support with monetary donations.

Unfortunately, OBSID security patrols were not as accepting.

One observer noted, “They told them that they were there illegally and the people in the shops and their customers didn’t want their kind around.” There “was a period of indecision, when the protesters pulled me into their dance and [OBSID] stood there watching. Then [OBSID] went off and after a while came back and said that they had to move their shack backwards because they were in the way.”

The traffic police requested that four metres be kept clear for emergency vehicles. This was ostensibly the rule that the protesters were violating. When OBSID was asked about the massive AfrikaBurn Dinosaur, which would also act as an obstruction to emergency vehicles (since it took up nearly the entire width of the road), they only replied that “there was a slight challenge in terms of space to move down the road”.