Archive | August, 2011

Mayhem, Madness… Media Exaggeration?

18 Aug

If you live in the City of Cape Town or anywhere in South Africa you would have noticed that the last few days the news has been inundated with Municipal workers strikes. More importantly the chaotic behaviour displayed on the streets of Cape Town and Durban CBD. News 24 reported that Samwu (South African Municipal Workers Union) accused the media of exaggerating violence claims during their mass action. Was there exaggeration on behalf of the media?

In order to answer my aforementioned question … I will first take a brief look back at what has transpired over the last few days.

Monday, 15 August 2011, Municipal workers swore that service throughout the country would be brought to a severe halt. These seemingly angered individuals demanded for an 18 % or R2 000wage increase and rejected the 6 % offer tabled. Salga responded by increasing the offer to 6.08% and stated that “doors were always open [for talks]”. – News 24, SAPA.

Municipal workers in Cape Town were seen banging on bins, making fires out of trash outside the City’s offices- News 24, SAPA. Etv displayed footage of workers looting stalls, chanting, marching with sticks, smashing municipal cars. They also reported on individual cases where a municipal worker (arriving at work) was attacked for his lack of support for striking colleagues.

In Durban, striking workers were seen trashing streets and allegedly intimidating non-striking workers. Samwu members overturned rubbish bins, and some forced their way into the Durban North Depot where they assaulted people with sjamboks, knobkieries and pangas.- IOL, Daily news.

In a press statement released on the 17 August 2011, Samwu attempted to “put the record straight” and asked the media to respect its contents and not to engage in selective distortion of what Samwu is saying- News 24.

The press statement released by Samwu comes across as a justification for the behaviour of their union members. “Maybe the commentators and others should spend just one shift with the city night cleaners and open their eyes to the appalling conditions they have to endure…. We unblock sewers, we fix pipes in the freezing cold, respond to emergencies and much more… And yet the gap between these vital workers and those who are supposed to manage service delivery is as wide as it was under apartheid. When a street cleaner upturns a rubbish bag, does it not occur to journalist and commentators that this might be an act of defiance of one for being visible, of not being taken for granted? Part of any industrial action is to make visible what it is that workers do, to force awareness on the public of the value of these workers. As a union we do not condone this action, but we at least try and understand it… the union cannot help thinking that the reaction to the trashing is a very class based response.”- News 24.

In my opinion the language used to describe the behaviour of striking municipal workers was accurate. I have heard verbs such as trashed, looting, rampaged, intimidating, and demand being used as the linguistic choice of actions. By definition these linguistic choices perfectly fit the actions of the striking workers. I believe the reporting of the events surrounding the march were not distorted or exaggerated.  Without the accompanying footage and pictures of the looting, trashing and burning of trash the accusations of exaggeration by Samwu could have been founded. But the footage seen by many clearly depicted a non-peaceful strike. However, IOL Daily news reported that a small group of protestors demonstrated peacefully outside the Hibiscus Coast Municipal Offices. This is the first account of a peaceful protest (as far as I have read).

We are in an embryonic stage of our democracy and it seems that class issues and the demons of apartheid are still seeping through the cracks of our society. But can we always blame class and apartheid for problems faced today? Yes there are visible gaps between the rich and the poor but is turning our streets where innocent bystanders are being injured the answers to the problems faced by the poor, the unappreciated and others.

I sympathize with the municipal workers who feel unappreciated and looked down upon, but I vehemently believe there is no justification for the violent behaviour depicted on the streets of Cape Town and Durban.

The media act as the watchdog for society. They are responsible for keeping the nation abreast with news surrounding us. So, as an institution they cannot be accused of distorting and exaggerating the behaviour of striking Municipal workers (not in this case anyway).

It will be immensely interesting to see the reports surrounding the huge march planned for 19 August 2011 in Johannesburg as well as the behaviour of the municipal workers. Will the abovementioned strike follow the footsteps of the Cape Town and Durban strikes?  Let us wait and see…

Nonviolence is an intensely active force when properly understood and used. – Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948)


Pictures courtesy of:,r:9,s:0&tx=135&ty=59&biw=1366&bih=667,r:8,s:30&biw=1366&bih=667,r:8,s:0&biw=1366&bih=667





UK Riots and Looting… An outcry from the marginalized or just menacing violence?

15 Aug

Britain is popularly known for its exciting premier league and their famous Royal Family. However, the last two weeks we have seen news surrounding the unexpected (or not so unexpected) riots and looting in this 1st world country.

Most of us are familiar with the reason behind these riots; the killing of a gangster by a policeman. We have seen this result in cities like: London, Manchester, Liverpool, Wolverhampton and Birmingham to name but a few, to be bombarded by rioting youth.

There has been a huge outcry by local communities and the UK government alike. British commoners, aristocrats and others have condemned the actions of the rioting youth. These individuals in their thousands signed an e-petition on a government website calling for the perpetrators of the riots and looting to have their benefits cut (TNT magazine). According to BBC NEWS UK Politics, the e-petition received 100,000 signatures and subsequently has become the first petition to be considered for pontificating by the House of Commons. British citizens have also been using social media sites such as FACEBOOK to show their support for the police, 1million supporters, (BBC News). They have also engaged in clean-up operations in affected cities. BBC News quotes David Cameron as saying that he is leader for a new moral army while also promising a tougher police response. By this he means robust policing using water cannons and rubber bullets if necessary, (BBC News).

It seems that the UK government have started considering crowd control tactics practised by South African Law Enforcement for decades. This year has highlighted that peaceful protests are a thing of the past or a notion forgotten. People with serious grievances are rioting, looting and currently in South Africa throwing dirt on the streets (Municipal workers wage strikes). We, South Africans, are accustomed to witnessing crazy and robust mass action. Annually our streets are filled with striking workers for improved remuneration and the most noted the historical Anti-Apartheid mass action. For example the aforementioned municipal workers current wage strike, wage strikes by teachers and medical workers (doctors and nurses). These have resulted in a political regime change in our country but also our streets looted with dirt, students being left without education for weeks and medical patients not being treated. But the mass action in the past few months has been the cause of political revolutions in African Countries like Egypt. But is this robust and menacing mass action seen in the UK an outcry for a social revolution?

Symeon Brown, a youth leader from Tottenham, believes that the riots and looting stems from a more complex issue. He argues that the riots stems from the removal of democratic consent… Meaning the youth feel the British government does not act in their interest (CBC News). Symeon Brown vehemently believes “the riots have come as a result of very much being on the margins of society – on the periphery of our civic sphere and I think that what we are seeing now is the result of the socially excluded being kept in a specific location suddenly exploding rather than imploding” (Frontline Partners with Youth Networks).

The Riots and Looting are more complex than meets the eye and to what main stream media have suggested. I have just read and heard reports condemning the riots and looting but I have not heard many reports on the other side of the crooked coin. Not that I agree with the outraged mass action but I do sympathise with the individuals living on the periphery or margins of the British society. They live in a society with a visible hierarchical social system, where like in many countries the poor get poorer and the rich get richer.

It will be interesting to see what the outcome of these riots and looting will be. Will the marginalized people of England be heard or will the robust policing prevail?

Pictures from:

CBC News: