Protests and the motivation behind them

I've reported on several strikes during my career, like the one pictured above at Themba Hospital some time last year.

The violent protests near Phalaborwa last week reminded me how fragile peace actually is. In February, the daily routine of Hazyview residents and commuters were similarily disrupted by two days of protests and demonstrations. Read about it here and here.

Although South Africans brace themselves for the “strike season”, it still comes as a shock when normally docile residents resort to violent measures to make themselves heard.

When I was still a rookie journalist, a few months into the job, a colleague and I had to photograph a crowd of municipal workers throwing around trash and marching in the streets of a small Bushveld town.

Naturally I was apprehensive and waited for them along their route, to take a photo of their banner and the leaders. My colleague, a fearless newshound, decided to venture closer.

A few minutes later, through my lens, I saw people pointing and the next moment the angry crowd surged forward.

Needless to say, I got out of there pretty quickly and today one of the photos I took that day is (in my opinion) one of the best photos I’ve ever taken. Which just goes to show that taking risks does pay off (in some cases).

Before February, I would have told you without hesitation that protesters are just making life difficult for themselves and that there are better ways to go about protesting issues.

I still think so, but now I tend to wonder what the motivation behind their actions are.

After the protests earlier this year, I was getting a comment from a prominent person in the community, when the person said something I’ll probably remember for the rest of my life. “How bad must their circumstances and how desperate must they be for them to risk injury in order to be heard? They obviously don’t believe that their concerns will be heard through any other action.” Or something in that vein.

It made me stop and really consider what would drive a mother of two young children or a high school student to throw rocks at a police vehicle manned by armed officers.

The next time you witness protests or see reports on television, keep that comment in mind. It may just give you a different outlook on events.

Retha Nel

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