What you should be thinking about that brick pic


The remnants of a Parkview police station van torched in Braamfontein.

This morning, a photographer shared a series of images of yesterday’s protest in the Cape Town CBD on social media. They were clear and candid images of an upsetting and, at times, violent afternoon.

One image in particular has been singled out and shared – it is of a protestor hurling a brick at the window of a McDonald’s restaurant, while inside, a father hurriedly lifts his child out of harm’s way.

Photo - Sullivan Photography


It’s an image of violence, of frustration and of rage. My sympathies go out to that father and his child – and to the staff and owner of that McDonald’s for the disruption to their day and for the very real fear that they must have experienced at the hands of the protestors.

It’s an image that causes a knock-on sensation of rage in the viewers. It’s the same feeling of anger we felt when the law library was burnt at UKZN, and again when the windows of The Orbit in Braamfontein were smashed.

This wanton destruction of private property is unwarranted – and what does it achieve? Certainly not sympathy for the cause.

No, certainly not. The more violent the student protests become, the less sympathy they gain from people in their comfortable middle class homes. “I watch jazz at the Orbit! I could have been there!”

While I am not condoning the violence – not for a second – I do think that white, middle class South Africans are showing enormous selfishness when they express concern only for the private property or the learning institutions being destroyed, when they complain because their favourite jazz venue got caught in the crossfire, but haven’t said a thing about the appalling abuses that have led to this moment.

Yes, I really would rather the protestors hadn’t smashed the Orbit’s windows. I really wish they hadn’t burnt the library. And honestly, that guy who threw a brick at the McDonald’s should have to answer to the law.

However, I can see that years of suppression and inequality and broken promises are what got us here – and despite my outrage at the students’ acts of violence, I still think that those years of injustice are the greater evil.

Sometimes, when I am in a bad mood about something, I will stomp and slam and thump. When my husband gets cross with me for my behaviour (and he’s right), nothing good comes of it, because he’s NOT HELPING ME. When, instead, he sympathises and addresses the cause of my trouble, things usually go a lot better for us.

I know that my behaviour is not right – just like I don’t agree with the tactics of this year’s protestors (God, I miss #feesmustfall 2015) – but there is a bigger picture here that we shouldn’t lose sight of.

So, if you are sharing the McDonald’s picture in handwringing horror, but you didn’t at any point speak out in sympathy for the students whose families have sold their furniture so that one of their children can pursue a brighter future, then you need to examine your own capacity for compassion.

Yes, violence isn’t the answer. Yes, the damage to property and even people is a dreadful and unreasonable price to pay.

But there’s a whole lot to be angry about in South Africa, and if you are a white, middle class, suburb-dwelling citizen, try to expand your concern beyond the front doorstep of your home and business. Speak out for the students, or it seems like you only give a damn when it disrupts your secure little world – which is exactly their point.