Demonstrators on the front line at the Woolworths pickets have added their voice to allegations of violent behaviour some stories, instead claiming the company is guilty of intimidation. Woolworths has expressed concern about the safety of its customers and employees, accusing activists Boycott, Divest and Sanctions in SA (BDS) of verbal abuse.
National Coalition for Palestine (NC4P) activist Abdul Cader, the coordinator of the demonstrations at Woolworths stores in Cavendish and Canal Walk, said the atmosphere at protests were never hostile and staff members were often informed of the reasons why the protests were taking place beforehand.
“We often speak to people about the Israeli occupation and the importance of boycotting Woolworths but we never turn to violence to spread that message,” Cader explained.
“At a previous demonstration at Canal Walk, as we were entering the busy mall at entrance 11, we were met by a number of officials from the special forces. I told them that on other occasions when people are in distress, they take 30 minutes to arrive but now when Woolworths contacts them for this, they come out in full force.”
Cader said he was disappointed by the low turnout at pickets, calling on the 250 000 protesters who took to the street in August in one of the biggest marches in solidarity for Palestine in Cape Town.
“Where are all these people today? We stand in protest against Woolworths almost every weekend and yet still our support is but a handful.”
Community activist Hanif Loonat said Woolworths also reported that Woolies had the assistance from the police’s Special Forces unit for protection. He believed protesters were practising their constitutional right to hold demonstrations and always followed rules and regulations regarding this kind of action. Loonat said the claims of intimidation were an attempt by Woolworths to spark fear in protesters in hopes of ending the boycott campaign.
“We saw some police officials taking pictures of protesters at one of the demonstrations. This is clearly an attempt by Woolworths to scare us away from what we are doing here. They know that we are in our right by standing outside, holding up our placards and calling for an end to the Israeli occupation,” Loonat added.
“Police have the right to arrest us if we are inciting violence or behave in a manner that put anyone’s life in danger. However, where are those individuals who claim to be victim of intimidation by protesters?”
In the statement by Woolworths, it warned BDS SA that if these alleged incidents of intimidation continue, they will consider taking further precautions, including legal action against the individuals involved. However, BDS SA supporters have vowed to continue their action. VOC (Ra’eesah Isaacs)