Maverick Citizen


Closing the gates of hell – protesting against the fossil fuel industry is everybody’s business

Closing the gates of hell – protesting against the fossil fuel industry is everybody’s business
An unidentified security officer of TSU Protection Services holds protester Angelo Doyle in a choke hold during a protest at Standard Bank in Rosebank, Johannesburg. (Photo Anita Khanna)

The right to protest is part of our Constitution, which says: ‘Everyone has the right, peacefully and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket and present petitions.’ To exercise that right does not need permission. It was built into our Constitution for good reason. It stems from the trauma we still carry as a society over peaceful protests like Sharpeville, Soweto and Marikana. It is essential to the practice of democracy.

Two weeks ago, Extinction Rebellion (XR) activists held a three-day occupation outside the head office of Standard Bank in Rosebank, Johannesburg. It was an act of civil disobedience, a deliberate and peaceful provocation to Standard Bank which, the organisers say, aimed to highlight its continued financing of fossil fuels, and in particular the East African Crude Oil Pipeline project. It followed a demonstration earlier in the year and the bank’s refusal to talk to the protesters and respond to their issues. 

The action took place in the same week that UN secretary-general António Guterres told world leaders at the UN Climate Ambition Summit that “humanity has opened the gates of hell” and called out the “naked greed and entrenched interests raking in billions from fossil fuels”. 

Guterres’s strident language is itself a form of civil disobedience. He no longer couches his words in diplomatic euphemism. He might as well have been speaking of Standard Bank and other big banks.

UN secretary-general António Guterres at the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal, on 27 June 2022, where he blasted global energy companies for ‘immoral’ oil and gas profits. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Miguel A Lopes)

One of the XR’s demands was for a televised debate with Standard Bank CEO Sim Tshabalala. The other was that Standard Bank end its financing of new coal projects by 2024 and instead invest in renewable energy access for poor communities

In response Standard Bank’s private security henchmen from TSU Protection Services, supported by the SAPS, acted as if it was they who faced an existential threat. Among other violations, they violently prevented a Maverick Citizen journalist from doing her job and deleted photos from her phone. Then, two days later, without warning and while negotiations to end the protest were going on, they dismantled the occupation and arrested one of the protesters, Angelo Doyle, who was violently manhandled for shouting a slogan, not because he acted threateningly. 

Doyle was initially held for several hours inside the bank and then transferred to police cells in Hillbrow where he spent the night among people accused of criminal offences in one of the most violent police precincts in the country. 

His phone was illegally confiscated and is still being retained “for investigation”.

protesting against fossil fuel

Police and an unidentified private security officer confiscate items from the bag and pockets of protester Angelo Doyle at Standard Bank in Rosebank, Johannesburg, on 21 September 2023. (Photo: Mark Heywood)

It’s worth reminding readers that the right to protest is part of our Constitution, which says: “Everyone has the right, peacefully and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket and present petitions.” 

To exercise that right does not need permission. It was built into our Constitution for good reason. It stems from the trauma we still carry as a society over peaceful protests like Sharpeville, Soweto and Marikana. It is essential to the practice of democracy.

The job of the police is to protect protesters, especially if they are not endangering other people or property. By most accounts this was a fairly benign protest.    

Once upon a time, TAC too engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience, breaking unjust laws. Today it is celebrated.

Amid an outcry about press freedom and its role in the violence, Standard Bank was quick to patch up its relations with Daily Maverick and the South African National Editors’ Forum, with CEO Tshabalala intervening directly and the bank issuing an apology. It promised to “implement further training to upskill and sensitise those who are tasked with handling matters of this nature”. 

How and whether it will do that is another question.

But Standard Bank has not acted to apologise to the protesters, or taken the moral high road to reach out to speak to them.

Read in the Daily Maverick: Climate activists: How far is too far in raising the climate alarm? 

XR is not the enemy. On the other hand, despite their protestations of good corporate citizenship, Standard Bank’s actions and omissions align them with a growing intolerance and violence towards activists and the use of private armies against nonviolent people who are trying to protect our planet.  

Read our editorial of  May 2022 on this: Human rights defenders killed: Will Nokuthula Mabaso’s death be in vain?

Over recent months I have observed the burgeoning activism of Extinction Rebellion in South Africa. It’s a young movement, cutting across class, race, gender and age. It feels to me a bit like the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) did in its early days. The TAC’s outrage over pharmaceutical company greed, and the protests it held against big pharma companies like GSK and Pfizer, now finds parallel in today’s mounting outrage against those who prop up fossil fuels, at enormous cost to life, livelihood and the future of the young.

Once upon a time, TAC too engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience, breaking unjust laws. Today it is celebrated.

protesting against fossil fuel

Daily Maverick journalist Lerato Mutsila is thrown out of the Standard Bank headquarters in Rosebank, Johannesburg, on 19 September 2023. (Photo: Kiara Affat)

The XR protest reflects a frustration among activists with the business-as-usual approach of the government and civil society, and this too presents parallels with the TAC. When the TAC started its campaign in the late 1990s, it started by calling out other members of civil society, stuck in a holding pattern of conferences, self-congratulation and co-option.

Something similar is needed again. 

Their calls for a boycott of Standard Bank… have the same potential for traction as the boycott of Barclays Bank over its support to apartheid

Truth be told, the climate justice movement in South Africa is not yet catalysing awareness, action and ideas on the scale that is needed: instead it exists in little corners, occupied by things like the Presidential Climate Commission, which while they do important work, are not resonating with or educating the mass of people about the dangers that lie ahead. As often happens with NGOs they’ve developed their own exclusive language, networks, circuits.  

Which is why it is disappointing that instead of solidarity the XR occupation was met by apathy. It was business as usual in Braamfontein and other NGO hubs. 

Nevertheless, Sim Tshabalala’s advisers should inform him that the climate activists present more than just a nuisance factor. They are calling on NGOs to close their accounts with the bank. They are meeting with creatives, churches and trade unions. International organisations like Bank Track are planning a solidarity picket in London next week. They are planning to keep the bank in the spotlight. 

As the climate breakdown death toll mounts, their calls for a boycott of Standard Bank, and other shows of rejection and denunciation of its business model, have the same potential for traction as the boycott of Barclays Bank over its support to apartheid, eventually forcing its disinvestment from South Africa. 

Read in the Daily maverick: Thanks, but no thanks: Standard Bank can have its journalism award back 

As the saying goes: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  

Yet, the climate crisis and global heating is everyone’s business. There is no social justice or human rights issue that will not be adversely affected by it. It’s a threat to our constitutional vision of equality as much as State Capture was. It’s time we all understood this.

Now that the gates of hell are open (even if not yet in your neighbourhood), it’s time everyone acted to mitigate the sixth mass extinction. DM

Absa OBP

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • ilike homophones says:

    does XR really know who they are up to? …… …… ……. you could be looking at an industry who is ruthless … … …. where do you think the go ahead comes from to shoot ALL cash-transit-robbers? ….. …. …. … this already happened two or three times …. … … …. no questions are asked, nobody investigates anything …. …. ….. it is 12 to 18 people who die every time … … … money talks, and the in-charge-entity who give these orders, is faceless ….. ……. ……. but what do you think can happen to you if you indirectly mess with him? …. …. … just asking …. … …

    you cannot use ER in the same sentence as apartheid …. …. ….. the whole world condemned apartheid ….. ….. …. VS …. …. …. the whole world loves money …. … ….

  • andre54 says:

    This post is by an anti humanist, why is Daily Macerick publishing this garbage?

  • A.K.A. Fred says:

    Without detracting from the direction of rest of the article the part “It stems from the trauma we still carry as a society over peaceful protests like Sharpeville, Soweto and Marikana” needs some response. I’m unqualified to comment on Sharpeville and Soweto, but Marikana peaceful? Come on Mark, you’re rescripting the narrative.

    • ilike homophones says:

      Fred, he is using murder (sharpeville,soweto,marikana) in the same sentence
      with XR, which consists of bored people with money …. …. ….

  • Simon Thompson says:

    I challenge Daily Maverick to publish an article (or even a series) on the counter-arguments to the “climate crisis”. The arguments presented by folk such as Clauser (2022 Nobel Laureate), Happer (Princeton professor emeritus), Moore (Greenpeace co-founder) and the many others who draw differing interpretations from the data. Science is founded on debate. I presume true journalism is too.

    • andre54 says:

      They won’t, and if they do I will eat a newspaper.

    • ilike homophones says:

      Simon, this will not happen … … …. as the social pressure is against anti-man-made-climate-crisis … … …

    • Apocalypto Soldier says:

      Why would they want to promote or dissemate ideas that are objectively wrong?

      NASA can show you the ice caps are shrinking at an accellerated rate
      Anyone can look at historic temperature readings and see the trends and rate of change.
      Anyone with a big enough drill and access to a glacier or iceberg can pull out a sample and show that the amount of carbon dioxide has been increacing at an alarming rate for the past few decades.

      Human caused global warming is the overwhelming scientific consensus. Sure you’ll find some scientists that disagree, but you’ll also find some scientists who disagree with evolution.

      Science is founded on rigorous testing of hypotheses and independent repetition and reviews of those tests.
      The consensus on climate change is supported by all of that, so unless the outliers come up with some compelling evidence that can be independently verified they can be safely ignored.

      • Middle aged Mike says:

        The gist of what you are saying is that the views of scientists eminently qualified to opine on a topic should be ignored if they don’t align to the ‘consensus’. That seems dangerous to me. It wasn’t that long ago that the consensus was that frontal lobotomies were good to go. Not long before then Eugenics was very much in favour by a large portion of the medical and scientific community.

        • Apocalypto Soldier says:

          It’s not about “views” it’s about hard evidence and repeatable experiments: experiments that can be repeated by other researchers with the same results.

          If they don’t have the data to back up what they’re saying then there’s scientifically speaking no merit.

      • Ben Harper says:

        No, there is no consensus on climate change, what IWS happening is opposing views are silenced and scientists who publish contradictory evidence are tarnished and destroyed

    • Steve Davidson says:

      Clauser is an 80 year old who has no experience of climate science. I quote from Skeptical Science: “Although Clauser has never published any peer-reviewed climate science research, he has made several climate-related claims whose veracity we will examine below.” (You can look that up – it’s quite easy on that thing called Google).

    • Steve Davidson says:

      Happer is an 84 year old also has no experience of climate science and according to Wikipedia who ‘was dismissed from the Department of Energy in 1993 by the Clinton Administration after disagreements on the ozone hole’. Worse, ‘….who is not a climate scientist, rejects the scientific consensus on climate change. In 2018, Donald Trump appointed him to the National Security Council to counter evidence linking carbon dioxide emissions to global warming.’

      • Ben Harper says:

        In other words, he was dismissed for disagreeing on something that turned out to be a hoax. So he was actually RIGHT and the alarmists and paid proxies were espousing nonsense as they’re doing right now

    • Steve Davidson says:

      So, before coming on here and spreading climate denial rubbish, maybe YOU should do some ‘scientific research’ – IT’S NOT THAT DIFFICULT!! – and then come back to us about the very easily obtained information I found in five minutes.

  • Rael Chai says:

    Is DM related to XR? I’m surprised at the amount of support DM is providing to a relatively fringe movement. Whether they have a right to protest or not, XR was on Standard Bank property and SBSA had a right to remove them. Bullying a bank is not going to affect climate change.

  • Gregory Scott says:

    Not all demonstrations are the same
    Not all demonstrators are the same
    Authorities treat demonstrators differently
    The right to demonstrate is no different to the right not to demonstrate
    Makes you think

  • Lawrence Sisitka says:

    Well, I suppose we really need at least one response that is completely in support of Mark’s article and the message it carries. I am frankly totally amazed by the degree of denialism of so many apparently intelligent and educated people. Guys, climate change is for real; unless we take extreme and immediate action it will killing the planet and everything on it, except maybe for some very clever sulphur-eating bacteria, which can probably survive even humanity’s collective insanities. My only real question is what motivates this conscious blindness, this refusal to accept the palpably obvious and overwhelmingly scientifically proven reality. Can you all be heavy fossil fuel investors, worried about your dividends? Is this really enough to compel you to ignore every bit of serious climate science in the last 40 years? Wow, that’s quite something. And as for the right to protest: I have said this before, but please try not to forget that every worthwhile freedom gained for the mass of people anywhere in the world (education, health, limited working hours etc.) was gained through protest, struggle and even, god forbid, revolution. Almost everything you enjoy in life, including your freedom to make s…loads of money from, presumably, climate-damaging investments, was won for you by the ancestors of the radicals you so despise. Please get a collective life!

    • ilike homophones says:

      why don’t you set us an example? …. …. …. by not using any product that is fossil related? …. …. …. if you lower the demand and make it zero eventually, … …. …. then production will be stopped! …. ….. ….. but individuals like you and mark and groups like XR should start this process of non-using ….. ….. …..come on, show us please how to not use any fossil related products …. … ….

    • Simon Thompson says:

      Lawrence if one steps back for just a moment and gives the contrarian view a chance, one finds an enormous body of work that runs counter to the the IPCC’s interpretation. And i find their interpretation more compelling! Sure the climate is changing. But is it possible that its not an emergency? Yes, not because of what i think, but because of people like the recent Nobel Prize (physics) winner, and many others like him, think.

    • Dennis Bailey says:

      Well said, Lawrence. Also shocked I thought the DM audience was more enlightened but apparently not. Vested interest is only part of the story, blind adherence and head-in-the-sand account for a lot of this backchat chat but DM needs to do a better job of interpretive dialogue like Pauli today with VBS/EFF and abysmal parli oversight. All points to a meltdown and reckoning of Western Cape floodwater proportions. Thanks, Mark for stating the obvious. Obviously necessary. Unfortunately!

    • Ben Harper says:

      Which “climate science of the last 40 years” are you referring to, the new Ice age, the acid rain, the hole in the ozone layer, the global warming catastrophe, the rising sea levels all of which were going to destroy the earth in 10 years? BTW the Maldives are still there and are quite fine

  • Julian Chandler says:

    Why did it require 4 security members to remove a journalist? It looks like something out of WWE.
    If you behave like a protester, you get treated like one.

  • Steven D says:

    Let’s be entirely clear on something: the right to protest, as enshrined in the Constitution, is NOT absolute. It is subject to limitation. The author unfortunately makes the opposite appear to be true.

    I would also be interested in balanced reporting on the apparent climate crisis, of which it appears none has been included in the DM’s offerings (I stand ready to be corrected on this point). I presume this is because of the risk of any views opposing the reported crisis being regarded as “disinformation”.

  • Denise Smit says:

    The article is not a true reflection on what happened. It is a pity that the journalist who is respected distorts the facts. The people who were forcefully removed trespassed on the property of the bank. Nobody prevented them from protesting peacefully and legally outside the bank. I think DM should start focusing on the government (Mantashe and the electricity minister) who want to continue with the fossil fuels coal, gas and oil for our energy requirements. Start at the top – this is what drives the funding. Denise Smit

  • Denise Smit says:

    And in this way the Luthuli House receives funding. Denise Smit

  • Middle aged Mike says:

    No one in their right mind would deny people the right to protest in a democratic state and I certainly support it 100%. Trespassing on private property and then refusing to leave when asked to do so and then having a screech is not protesting it’s just being a Karen and it’s undignified. Equating this poncery with the fight against apartheid or the Vietnam war or whatever is insulting to the many activists who have made huge personal sacrifices. There are no consequences for these theatrics and I’m fairly sure that they will achieve blow all except completely alienating the general public. That certainly seems to be what’s happening in the EU, Britain and the States.

  • Robert Gornal says:

    It is a fact that this planet can and has in the past looked after itself and us humans are not truly going to effect any change. Climate control is not a definitive issue in which those for it are totally correct. What should concern us more is the reason why climate control has become a main issue because this may well be a direction we are being forced into for the finacial benefit of the global elite.

  • Roy Clarke says:

    Gee Mark, you seem to have rattled a few cages. Looking at DM comments on various issues, it seems like it’s ok to criticise the ANC government but criticism a big bank for its investment in fossil fuels and protest handling brings out your readership’s inner right wing.
    How sad when people create antagonism against climate change which is clear and obvious with raging fires, record temperatures and massive floods but doesn’t fit with their world view or their desire not to change.
    I suppose thats what conservative means.

    • Middle aged Mike says:

      I think you’ll find yourself getting very ‘right wing’ very quickly if a group of people occupy your home or business premises demanding that you submit to their demands. Objecting to the disruptive and self indulgent histrionics of the eco fascists does not make one in any way ‘right wing’. Neither does it define one as being supportive of the continued desecration of the planet by the human bacteria colony that is overwhelming it.

  • I can’t believe DM are still running this story? It’s also clear that their “journalist” set herself up to be a victim.. And now she’s crying about it? If this is what passes for “journalism” these days at DM?
    This is a pure click bait tactic by DM Shame on DM and the “scribe” who felt entitled to write this rather squewed piece. Tsk tsk tsk… This guy and his colleague should both be fired? Parting question what would great journalists do? What Ruda and Derek have done? Not this. And they certainly wouldn’t be rehashing in for click bait? Very disappointed at the sliding integrity of DM

  • Peter Holmes says:

    Branko Brkic, I do feel you need to take an introspective look at waht DM is becoming. Many of the comments below say it all. I’ve already reduced my DM monthly payment in protest against DM’s absurd comments moderation policy which is flirting with censorship. I want to read impartial, dispassionate and objective articles. The material in this report does not tick those boxes.

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