Protests: Squashing the burning desire

Pushing back against a bank request for payment after lack of service left Smit basking in the glorious afterglow of his first successful protest.

Pushing back against a bank request for payment after lack of service left Smit basking in the glorious afterglow of his first successful protest.

FIFTH COLUMN 

Until recently my preferred method of protest consisted of shaking my head and walking away. In psychiatric circles that’s known as “passive-aggressive behaviour” or an “indirect expression of hostility”. 

At first I thought it was a white tendency, but was soon told it was a juvenile tendency and that I should find a better way to communicate my frustrations. So I revised my method to include a level of engagement I was comfortable with. 

My new approach was soon put to the test when Standard Bank called for the umpteenth time to find out where their money was. My first reaction when the call came through was to passive-aggressively hit the “reject” button but, committed to a new way of doing things, I hit “accept” instead. 

The caller, a confident young man, asked me when I planned on making a payment. I calmly told him by the end of the month, but added that I wasn’t too happy doing it because – and this was the protest bit – the bank hasn’t fixed my internet banking for over two years now. 

There was a slight pause after which the gentleman asked me out of the blue what I did for a living. In full protest mode I told him it was none of his business. Our conversation ended and I sat back for a moment basking in the glorious afterglow of my first successful protest action against big business. 

The guy called again the next day and I re-committed to a payment by month end so I didn’t really achieve anything, but the thrill of standing up for myself gave me a taste of the protesting life and how making a point can be wildly empowering. 

Sadly, protesting in South Africa has skipped a number of stages and went straight from making a point to burning stuff down as of late. It’s a sad state of affairs considering the inroads made recently by protesting done right.

Julius Malema has rightly called the burning of schools a “barbaric act” but unfortunately used the next sentence to ask his supporters to burn down the ANC’s buildings instead. Malema also came out in defence of clinics, but told his supporters to keep blocking roads because “you need to threaten a bit”. 

As a protest newbie I’m not sure where to draw the line. I’m definitely not for burning down buildings – burning anything more than a candle, I’d say, is out for me – and blocking roads sounds like a lot of work. 

The best way to challenge the status quo I think – and again, I’m new at this – is to head out on August 3 and make a mark next to the party that’s pissing you off the least at the moment. If you feel simply making a cross does not sufficiently convey your dissatisfaction, take a placard with.

Regrettably, Standard Bank is not taking part in the local elections this year, which means my best course of action would probably be to roll my eyes while I wait in the queue to lodge a formal complaint. That’ll show them.

 
JS Smit

JS Smit

JS Smit is a Cape Town-based freelance writer. Formally trained as a copywriter, he took a break from ads in 2010 to write a blog for the Mail & Guardian's Thought Leader and since 2015 has written for the Mail & Guardian. Read more from JS Smit

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