occupy cape town

Submitted by ConsciousBabe on Thu, 2011-11-10 12:16

On the steps of Thibalt Square podiumOn the steps of Thibalt Square podium

The Occupy movement started in Cape Town some Saturdays ago. A small group of locals hoping to reinact what has been going down all around the world for the last few months - Occupy Wall Street being the most well-known – decided to hold peaceful discussions on the lawn of Gardens outside Parliament. The intention was to plan what was to be done as well as how to spread what they felt to be an important message.

I made it to the second meeting, a Saturday that fell on the 22nd October, to find out exactly what this message was. I had followed a cyber trail to find out ‘if’ and then ‘when’ Occupy Cape Town would be taking place again. I also took the time to ascertain that there was going to be a substantial number of people – a couple of dudes holding placards wasn’t going to be anything to write home about, and certainly not worth the rare mission into the CBD.

The gathering we eventually came across could have been mistaken for another group of tourists, but they did have a certain Woodstock (the festival) aura about them. Once we had leaned in closer, the words being spoken by black and white alike possessed a powerful twang that sent shivers down my spine.

Discussions at GardensDiscussions at Gardens

‘We are living in a fear-based economy.’ These words came from a man wearing an anti-Fracking t-shirt, who I later learned was called Matthew. ‘Capitalism requires constant growth and so will inevitably fail, as the planet has limited resources - we are already reaching peak oil. Right now the economy is controlling us and the powers that be ration us, when in fact there is more than enough of everything. We need to replace fear with imagination. We CAN live in a system that lets us spend more time with our friends and family and less time stolen by survival. When there are enough people on board the solutions will be easy.

Much more was said, some straight from conspiracy-theory websites, some from the heart. Others voiced concern at the disorganised aspect of the movement.

Afterwards afro-man Nur played ‘Give peace a chance’ (tweaking lyrics to say ‘down with this greedy system’ and ‘imagine there’s no capitalism, it’s easy if you try’) and we made our way to Thibalt Square armed with pieces of paper that read ‘down with capitalist greed’ and the like.

It seemed the entire monetary, economic and capitalist system presently in place was being condemned here. But perhaps for a land to grow anew it requires fire. And perhaps revolutions have always been needed to dismantle the status quo for a more hopeful future. Or maybe this was just a group of angry people blaming bigger things with longer words for their simple discontent. I guess sometimes it’s hard to tell the mad from the genius.

The daunting corporate buildings look onThe daunting corporate buildings look on

The following Wednesday the Occupy Cape Town group met again, this time at Thibalt Square, with the intention not only to further discuss and plan, but also to bring food and goods to distribute amongst the needy. As I arrived (blanket and tins in hand) I noticed a different atmosphere this time, more excitement, as the usual midday hustle-bustle of the square added a new dimension of action to the group. There were also more people this time (more students perhaps) and a general sense of doing something right, whilst relishing in the idea of ‘sticking it to the man’.

I zoned in on one of the guys sitting on the steps, who told me his name was Peter.
‘I had already heard about the Occupy thing in New York and I thought that it was good cause. What I believe we are speaking out against is the exploitation of the rich against the poor. Yes, it’s hard to sit here and hope for change, but it’s the right thing to do. The most useful consequence of this movement would be if the 1% that we’re talking about decided to become more compassionate. But even if the middle class would just became more aware...’

The ‘1%’ that Peter is referring to comes from the slogan from Occupy movements all around the world, which claim ‘We are the 99%’. The belief is that 1% benefit from 99% of the worlds effort, a reality that is considered unacceptable by these movements. They disagree with the current system, as it only seems to leave the poor poorer and the rich richer, and believe huge changes need to be made. The recent recession is used as an example of how flawed our current economic system is.

Alex explains things nicelyAlex explains things nicely

Peter points out the man who introduced him to the Occupy Cape Town thing, and I spot this ‘Alex’ through the crowd - donned in a full body placard that reads ‘1% free, 99% slave’. I approach him asking for comment on the current commotion with a security guard at the bottom of the steps.
‘The powers that be are clearly not very happy that we’re here. We’re just a bunch of like-minded individuals peacefully gathering to have intellectual debate!’

Next Alex gives me his take on Occupy Cape Town, and I suddenly understand a lot better:
‘For now we are really about to creating awareness and inspiration for the movement than anything else. People may be here for different reasons today, but we all agree that the current system is wrong and needs to change.
It’s a fallacy to believe that the economic paradigm we live in is the only system that can work. The current system was designed by people for which the rules of the game essentially were created, not evolved. What Occupy Cape Town is saying is that the rules of the game are wrong and need to change.
One of the biggest problems of our system is profit-maximisation, which is inherently a self-interested philosophy. In order to get more of the pie somebody else has to get less and THAT is the system we’re against! The paradigm of self-interest needs to change… we now have all the technology and the know-how to live differently so there is no reason why we need to perpetuate this system that deliberately and directly creates poverty.
To start off with, we need to pose decisions back to the people. What happens at the moment is that all political and economic decision-making is a top-down hierarchical trend coming from a very small percentage of people.
The fact is that this isn’t some small movement, this is happening all over the world -I wouldn’t be here protesting today if I thought my voice wasn’t going to make a difference. If all the people who know what’s going on and believe in what we’re doing can be inspired to join us, then true, meaningful and lasting change can happen!

Julan sings 'Big yellow taxi'Julan sings 'Big yellow taxi'

While I was talking to Alex, messages had been chanted, songs sung and everyone was generally getting very hyped. But the overall feeling was still scattered.

‘I am here today to stop the capitalist societies from taking over our neighbourhoods,’ Raphael from Mitchells Plein tells me. Ensuring that us as the small guys don’t progress - supposedly that is capitalism. [This movement] has a slim chance but we need the masses.’

I see that Ed – ‘a man with a plan’ I had met the last Saturday- and others are chatting in a bit of a group and as I walk up I’m asked to help pull everyone into a big circle so that the focused discussions can commence.

‘We do want to eventually have an actual occupation, so let’s keep that at the back of everyone’s minds,’ explains Ed.
‘The other thing we want is to start a whole lot of street art, stickers, posters around Cape Town that spread the word about what you’re interested in, the direct message, specific things. Also from now on we want to bring food along to every meet so that we can give it out to homeless people.’
He explains that this is in line with the world-wide movement Food Not Bombs and assures me he is personally going to make sure today’s stuff is given to those people in need.

I overhear a passing man stop to ask what’s going on:
‘Who are you guys?’
‘We are Occupy Cape Town.’
And the objective being?’
‘We are tired of our fake economy, we are tired of corporate greed, we are tired of corruption and of being at the bottom end of our economy. We stand by the ideals of the global movement, which is People over Profit...’

When we left, the people of the Occupy Cape Town movement were seated at the top of the Thibalt Square podium, hopefully making some substantial plans. Watch this space.

Thanks to Grant McPherson for the photographsThanks to Grant McPherson for the photographs