United by vuvuzelas, torn apart by disparity

by Jun 17, 2010All Articles

by Donwald Pressly  June 11, 2010

The Parliamentary press gallery offices have a bird’s eye view of the goings-on in Plein Street, which runs in front of Parliament.

Monday was the first working day marking the month-long recess, but it turned out to be the first time I can recall that the premises were invaded by a gunman – turning an expected quiet day into one of much drama.

The parliamentary press have been in the old Barclays Bank building at the tradesmen’s entrance since late 2005, just in time to see a mini-revolution from our windows in May of the following year.

A Cosatu march had been joined by thousands of lumpen proletarians (what Marxists would call out-of-work workers). They were not in a happy mood and the Parliament’s security staff swung the huge wrought-iron gates firmly shut on that day.

After smashing their way through a number of shop windows in Adderley Street and then in Plein Street and looting what was in sight, Western Cape Cosatu general secretary Tony Ehrenreich managed to persuade the crowd, including the hangers-on, to behave.

But the situation could have turned very ugly. It could have made Soweto of June 16, 1976 look like a picnic.

The anger of the crowds – who were overwhelmingly black rather than coloured – against authority, and, I suppose, any display of wealth and possession, was palpable. I remember armed police in combat gear – and plastic mask guards – lining up at the bottom of the street.

The atmosphere was different on Monday as hundreds of onlookers herded to see what all the commotion was about.

The gunman, part of a three person team, had robbed a store off St George’s Mall. One was chased by police all the way to Plein Street where he entered the basement of 90 Plein Street, once the SA Revenue Service building, but now the parliamentary administrative offices. He was caught by police on the fire escape. Onlookers were heard to shout: “Skiet hom, skiet hom!” (shoot him) to the police. This time the crowd sided – perhaps a little too enthusiastically – with the police.

These events indicate that there is a reservoir of resentment against authority in this city – particularly from the black section of the population who live mainly in poverty on the city’s fringes.

On Wednesday Plein Street rose up again, this time positively, in an orchestra of vuvuzelas and honking car horns marking the start of the World Cup festivities.

But as these mistily happy street activities begin, a protest group, Abahlali baseMjondolo, yesterday pledged to set up informal housing around the Cape Town Stadium. The DA-controlled council has been given a run for its money in the “open loo revolt” at Makhaza, Khayelitsha.

The council provided toilets but, arguing that it had an agreement with the citizenry, left individual households to provide the enclosures. The ANC Youth League smashed down enclosures that were put up by the council on two occasions.

One can feel that the resentment continues to simmer.

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