Constitutional Democracy is all about minorities. Sure, the majority gets to make the rules – but they don’t get to do so at the expense of the rest. The constitution – the supreme law of the land – is more about protecting all the people from the tyranny of the few and protecting the few from the tyranny of the many than it is a document drawn up by the winners of a popularity contest.
Today the Democratic Alliance took to the streets in protest against COSATU’s refusal to bridge the impasse over a youth wage subsidy (something that all other parties consider key to creating employment for the country’s swathes of idle young people). COSATU don’t like the wage subsidy because it’s a learn-while-you-work scheme which would legally prevent them from extracting union fees from the people who might make use of the subsidy; and because it doesn’t do anything for the dwindling numbers of already employed, unionised workers they represent. That’s it in a nutshell, and you don’t have to believe me – it’s in their written opposition to the idea.
So the DA took up a time-honoured, African means of showing opposition to something – they marched. Instead of doing what their once lily-white supporters in the past might have done and writing letters to editors of newspapers in indignation, the new, more representative DA toyi-toyi’ed. It wasn’t to be. Before they could get their multicultural show on the road, COSATU and NUMSA members began rushing at them emblazoned in union colours, hurling bricks, rocks and insults. Imagine the victims they might have played if the shoe were on the other foot – and in the past it has been. How faded our memories have become…
COSATU have always insisted on the right to free, non-violent protest – and the constitution grants them this. The courts have repeatedly granted them this. Indeed, the police have made sure that this right has, under peril, been a protected one. Why should the DA not have the same right to protest COSATU? When Zwelinzima Vavi threatens strikes now, he can’t really be sure he’ll muster the numbers he used to. When someone else mounts a protest march, the unions think their monopoly on this activity is somehow compromised – and they react with hatred, violence, disrespect and fire – not unlike a spoilt child does when another child is as good as he at his own game. It is base, vulgar and shows a deep lack of understanding – the understanding of concepts you’d imagine trade unions were founded on – equality, fairness, freedom, the rights of assembly, the rights to argue and bargain. All of that went out of the window when the red cap was on the other side’s head. Imagine the confusion among the unionists when they were holed up in the building and a mob came to protest them. It is no wonder their heads exploded. There was no way they could comprehend such a role-reversal.
I do not support the DA. I question the sense of them marching their supporters to COSATU headquarters – just as I question this as the only course of action every time COSATU embark upon it. I hear many commentators with an “I told you so” attitude to the violence against the marchers, but I am forced to ask if they aren’t being a little disingenuous. Were COSATU ever to be met by brick-throwing imbeciles and spitting hatred by a vitriolic mob, would these same commentators not have stood up for them and their right to protest – to protest anything, anywhere? I would call someone who says no a liar.
Protest doesn’t belong to anyone. Frankly I think it has outlived its usefulness among civilised people – but it is protected. The police gave permission for this protest to take place – and it should have been allowed to peacefully assemble, move around, hand over a memorandum and piss off again. That it didn’t is a blight on Vavi’s record and a disgrace to our constitutional democracy. Those who laugh because a few DA members and journalists got hit by rocks forget that the vast majority of these protesters weren’t the detested white capitalists or privileged, educated people with jobs and means – they were mostly black people who wanted jobs. Have we so little self-respect that we cannot see the unemployed as victims here, that we must side with protected, unionised, belligerent workers? If that is how you feel, you have missed the point of freedom, you do not know what democracy is and you would have made a better serf to Apartheid masters than you do a free man.
Equality is not for some; it is for all – even those whom you despise.