Defend Truth


Exercising your right to protest cannot infringe on the rights of others


Zukiswa Pikoli is Daily Maverick's Managing Editor for Gauteng news and Maverick Citizen where she was previously a journalist and founding member of the civil society focused platform. Prior to this she worked in civil society as a communications and advocacy officer and has also worked in the publishing industry as an online editor.

South Africans showed the EFF that being poor and downtrodden does not mean you cannot tell when you are being used for political power plays.

Political parties are adept at the game of theatrics and grandstanding, and on the odd occasion may do actual good for the people they claim to represent and for whom they claim to advocate. 

The EFF is particularly good at this, as it capitalises on emotive issues that plague most of the country, such as blackouts, on­­going racial fires and searing unemployment. And, of course, last week it decided to test its support by staging a national shutdown. The shutdown was purported to be about protesting against rolling blackouts, but also demanded that President Cyril Ramaphosa vacate his office as President.

Now, the EFF is known to be quite radical and forceful in its assertions and initially used quite intimidating language in trying to marshal support. However, when law enforcement responded, stating that no intimidation and vandalism would be tolerated, it quickly toned down its message. 

However, what is important to note here, particularly in the spirit of commemorating our hard-fought human rights, which are etched in the blood of the 69 people who died at the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, is that exercising your rights cannot infringe on the rights of others.

In other words, although it is indeed the EFF’s right to protest, as guaranteed in the Constitution, it is also the right of others not to be intimidated into participating. 

It is also worth noting that the DA’s attempt to deny the EFF its right to protest is in itself undemocratic, unlawful and unconstitutional, and shows that it does not have a full appreciation of how important the right to protest is in a country where people were slaughtered by an apartheid government for daring to demand their human rights.

Timing and legitimacy

The timing and success of the shutdown has been much debated, as cynics say that the EFF chose a day on which most people had taken leave anyway and would not have gone to work or been out in the streets. 

Some also debated the legitimacy of the protest if it was mainly made up from a leadership perspective of EFF members, the nefarious Carl Niehaus and former chairperson of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, Themba Godi. Where were the masses they claimed to be fighting for, to not only show their support for the action but also to make their dissatisfaction known?

It seemed more a game of grandstanding while ignoring the reality that mainly poor people stood to lose from this action, because if they didn’t go to work they wouldn’t get paid. Hawkers, who often bear the violent brunt of protests, lost out on their income on the day, as they stayed off the streets for fear of being mowed down by the protesters.

Read more in Daily Maverick: We owe murdered activists more than mumbled platitudes

You see, what South Africans showed the EFF, and hopefully other political parties also took note, is that being poor and downtrodden does not mean you cannot tell when you are being used for political power plays. 

If your purported cause and concern for people’s rights do not match your actions, you will quickly be discovered. If you are tone-deaf in your messaging and cannot understand that the economic situation in the country hits the working class and poor the hardest because they have no cushioning that will cover them should they not get paid for a day, get fired for absenteeism or lose out on income, then you will be exposed. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.


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  • Bhekinkosi Madela says:

    My understanding was that the DA opposed violent threats by the EFF and I imagine I heard Steenhuisen repeat himself to this effect. Remember they (EFF) had threatened to target national key points, OR Tambo airport for instance.

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