South Africa's Protest Crackdown Sparks Apartheid Déjà Vu

The battle over Rondebosch Commons is heating up after riot police adopt old methods to confront "occupy" protesters in an historic area of suburban Cape Town.

Posted: 01/31/2012 11:22 AM EST
South Africa,Protest ,Apartheid, global news, police violence

South African authorities have lifted charges on 41 protesters who were arrested this weekend in connection with peaceful protests in a rich, white suburban area, but although the demonstration is over, the national conversation about how the demonstrators were treated has only begun.

On Friday, protesters from several community organizations planned a three-day summit dedicated to addressing issues affecting Cape Town’s poor, including, land, jobs and housing. Part of the gathering included peaceful demonstrations in the exclusive Rondebosch Commons area of Cape Town, however, when the mostly all-black group of protesters showed up, they were greeted by officers in riot gear who sprayed the crowd with a blue dye — similar to an apartheid-era move where police used purple dye to identify and arrest protesters — and allegedly assaulted many of the protesters during arrest.

However, the site where the demonstrations took place is not just any upscale neighborhood, the Commons has a long history that includes both reverence by the Khoisan indigenous people and a site of racist segregation after people of color were forbidden under apartheid and not allowed to return until 1994. Even after Blacks were allowed, it remained largely unapproachable for those living miles away in townships.

While South African scholar Christopher McMichael told the Mail and Guardian that the protest crackdown was simply "indicative of the police response to the Occupy phenomenon throughout the world,” others went farther.

“The police’s reaction was inappropriate. I am not sure if it is because Black people cannot come and protest on the Common," said Tony Ehrenreich, city council ANC leader according to the Independent.

The protesters have vowed to return to the Common next weekend and continue their demonstrations.

“We will occupy every golf course, we will occupy every piece of vacant land until both the DA [Democratic Alliance] and ANC governments listen to the people instead of the corrupt business people and big corporates who fund their election campaigns, and dictate land, economic and fiscal policy,” said Jared Sacks of Communities for Social Change, as quoted in the Independent.

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