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The method behind the protest madness

08 Sep 2019 at 07:28hrs | Views
As international business leaders and politicians gathered in Cape Town last week for the World Economic Forum on Africa (WEF), xenophobic violence erupted in parts of South Africa.

Ghoulish images and videos were  a prelude to a forum that gave African Heads of State an opportunity to interact with the business community and potential investors.

While all eyes were on South Africa for all the right reasons, groups of riotous South Africans suddenly felt that foreigners were flooding the southern African nation and undermining their country's security, stability and prosperity.

With the WEF Africa 2019 at South Africa's doorstep, foreigners were blamed for South Africa's crime rates and the hardships experienced by poor South Africans.

But there is a disturbing trend. These kind of protests, their ubiquity and frequency, is sufficient to denote a structural shift in how people are now confronting power, as well as the motives behind the skirmishes.

Only last month, when President Mnangagwa took over as the chairperson of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation, the opposition MDC laid out a grand plan to embarrass him at the regional summit through demonstrations back at home and in Tanzania.

The fact that the skirmishes almost always clash with the convening of regional or international meetings is not a coincidence, it is a well calculated move, that is meant to tarnish the respective countries' images and chase away investors.

Last week, some Zimbabweans in South Africa were reported to have threatened to embarrass President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his delegation during the WEF Africa summit.

As demonstrations take centre-stage in Africa and political activists picket the summit venues, the impression going to the rest of the world is that the continent is on fire.

Chamisa factor

Predictably, MDC leader Mr Nelson Chamisa latched on to the South African debacle, and was trying to use the unfortunate skirmishes to campaign for his selfish agenda.

While South Africa was burning, Mr Chamisa thought the time was opportune to call on President Cyril Ramaphosa to 'fix the Zimbabwean crisis'.

He pleaded with the South African leader to "help Zimbabweans help themselves", whatever that means.

While conflating the issues, Mr Chamisa did not bother to explain how 'fixing the Zimbabwean crisis' will result in peaceful coexistence between South Africans, Somalis, Nigerians, Eritreans, and Mozambicans, among the other nationals in South Africa. After all, what is happening in South Africa is an African matter, not a South Africa versus Zimbabwe game.

A new breed of protestors

But, there is a new wave of protestors, not only on our African shores, but throughout the whole world.

There is no singular leader in this type of protests.

Instead, the protests are organised by an ad hoc collection of groups who co-ordinate demonstrations over social media and by word of mouth.

Most of the protests are targeting to overthrow elected governments from power. The protestors have not been shy in revealing that. The ongoing organised revolts in Venezuela, where the protestors have been seeking to remove President Nicolas Maduro from office, are a good example.

In South Africa's case, President Ramaphosa was elected into office in May this year. These are still early days in his tenure as President and the skirmishes in South Africa tell a story of a nation that is already asking serious questions with regards to their leader.

Some people in South Africa believe that President Ramaphosa is too 'pro-business' to take any radical measures in redistributing wealth in South Africa.

While a few South Africans have already vented some of their economic frustrations on the recent xenophobic attacks, President Ramaphosa needs to show his mettle soon to quell the dissatisfaction that is slowly brewing in South Africa's heart.

A stitch in time saves nine.

'School of revolution'

In 2014, BBC's chief correspondent Laura Kuenssberg reported about the Oslo Freedom Forum, which is located in a 'secure' basement of a four-storey hotel in Norway.

"From all over the world, the aristocracy of activists gather to tell their stories, share ideas and learn.

"This workshop has to make sure your message, whether in Egypt, Ukraine, Hong Kong, China, North Korea, catches on. The teaching here is to be successful. To topple a government for good, you have to be organised and plan meticulously.

"Activists here have been involved in helping to organise the protests in Hong Kong. Their plan to put thousands of protestors on the streets was in fact hatched two years ago," Kuenssberg reported.

Over the years, several African activists have taken turns to attend the forum, including Zimbabwe's Jestina Mukoko and Evan Mawarire.

Coming from these protests, the activists and their 'students' back home have the tendency of seeing protests through the prism of their own particular set of concerns, especially about their right to protesting, while deliberately ignoring other people's right to peaceful coexistence.

Usually, they fail to define their aims clearly and invariably descend into a visceral and non-constructive lot, as witnessed during the recent 16 August skirmishes in Harare.

In addition, the protests often fail to find a common goal or person to coalesce around, and therefore, opposing Heads of State end up looking like the lax mission.

This has been the case in Turkey.

While the protest movement is burgeoning since 2013, the reasons behind it range from the protection of the Gezi Park to a great deal of frustration and loathing of the government led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The same thing has been happening in Zimbabwe, with President Mnangagwa being blamed for every problem under the sun.


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