Editorial: On nonviolent resistance

Since June, Hong Kong has been rocked by anti-government protests that have only grown in size and intensity. Initially, protesters wanted the withdrawal of a proposed new law allowing for the extradition of Hongkongers to mainland China — the Bill has now been suspended — but these have evolved into broader demands for greater democracy and guarantees for Hong Kong’s continued independence.

A notable feature of these protests has been the preparedness of the protesters, and the new and innovative tactics they have adopted. In doing so, organisers say they were inspired by martial arts legend Bruce Lee’s famous maxim: “Be water, my friend.”

Key to these tactics have been the apparent mobility and spontaneity of the protests: demonstrations have been arranged at the last minute, sometimes in multiple locations, to make it more difficult for authorities to prepare.

Arguably, the most disruptive single protest came this week at Hong Kong’s international airport, where a mass sit-in forced the airport to cancel flights for two consecutive days. Choosing such a high-profile target guaranteed international headlines, increasing pressure on both the Hong Kong and Chinese governments.

South Africa, of course, is no stranger to protest action, of both the peaceful and the unpeaceful variety — so much so that service delivery protests, marches and demonstrations often have limited effect, falling on the deaf ears of political leaders who have seen it all before. If citizens really want their voices to be heard, they might consider taking a few lessons from Hong Kong’s masterclass in nonviolent resistance.

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