Editorial: Marching is a democratic right

The right to assembly, to protest and to the freedom of expression are built into our Constitution.

The right to assembly, to protest and to the freedom of expression are built into our Constitution.

This week, the ANC led a march on the provincial legislature of the Western Cape, the only province run by the Democratic Alliance, in what looks like a tit-for-tat response to the DA's planned march on the ANC's headquarters, Luthuli House, in Johannesburg.

At least DA leader Helen Zille, who has otherwise had a rather upsetting week, emerged to receive the marchers' memorandum. She may have been booed as she did it (they were protesting against her party's governance, after all), but she took it and she handled it all in a democratic way.

It's hard to see ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe doing the same when the DA marches to Luthuli House on Wednesday.

In fact, the ANC has done precisely the opposite of the democratic thing: it has threatened to "defend" Luthuli House physically, meaning there is the prospect of the kind of violence that met the DA when it marched on the offices of trade union federation Cosatu in Johannesburg a year or two ago. Bricks were thrown, metal poles were brandished, people were injured. It was all way too much like the protest politics of the late 1980s and early 1990s when marches were almost inevitably predestined to end bloodily.

This should not be. There should not be a host of 500 or so Umkhonto weSizwe "vets" (itself a gathering that required police permission but didn't have it) trying to turn the streets around Luthuli House into a "no-go" zone. Such activities should not be endorsed by any member of the ANC leadership. In fact, they should be firmly condemned – and stopped.

The right to assembly, to protest and to the freedom of expression are built into our Constitution: they are among the key rights apartheid denied South Africans and for which our liberation heroes fought. Does the ANC no longer regard them as the people's right?

You might say that the DA's march on the ANC headquarters is silly (why not march on the Union Buildings?) and surely it is also "provocative", as the ANC has called it.

But that's politics and it's an election year, so the ANC had better get used to the idea. Political discourse can be pretty provocative.

What the ANC can't see, it seems, is that it doesn't have to be provoked. It doesn't have to react with extreme insecurity, to militarise the situation (or at least to MK-ify it), or pretend the DA is an invading army likely to trash their offices and perhaps, thereby, the entire liberation movement.

That is simply daft – and politicking at its worst. You could also say it's needlessly provocative.


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