OPINION by Kareem Maliki
One might say there is nothing new in the Bo-Kaap residents protests: at the end of the day, all of us are used to seeing South Africans always protesting somewhere about something. However, there is something important about the struggle of Bo-Kaap community that must not go unnoticed: Muslims of Cape Town are awakening and are ready to stand for their rights.
As much as we are used to the fact that majority of South African protests are about the service delivery, we are also habituated to local Muslim marches and demonstrations being mostly concerned with the matters of an international level, such as Palestinian struggle, Syrian war or Rohingya genocide. But the current situation in Bo Kaap represents a different kind of a mass action. It is a not a matter of foreign policy that took people out on the streets; it is something that concerns the Bo Kaap residents’ living and their homes and thus the matter is as domestic as it only can be.
One can easily agree that such disputes over the domestic policy issues are very different from the ones that we, as South African Muslims, are accustomed to. To direct one’s protest against Israel and Zionism in post-apartheid South Africa is much easier than opposing R1 billion development plan that has already been approved by the City of Cape Town and must be anticipated by the interested private sector companies.
Somebody may ask, “But what about the interests of the people, was not the anti-apartheid struggle for democracy meant to give power to the people so they could rule in the public interest, guided by the public opinion?” But what is public opinion then? One may assume that public opinion is the opinion of the people or at the least the majority of them; however, in reality, public opinion is the one that is expressed publicly. The opinion of the communities that are silent is not counted, even if they constitute a majority. It is their public expression that makes their opinions public and thus cannot be dismissed by the government as personal opinions that everybody is entitled to.
However, it is not enough for us to articulate our opinion, whether we stand for Bo Kaap or Palestine, as there will always be those whose interests are affected by our proclamations. Our public opinion has to be defended by using a public pressure. This is what politics and policy are about: both words etymologically go back to polis, which is an Ancient Greek city-state (or city-society); in other words, the art and science of politics is balancing the competing claims and demands in order to preserve the social unity and civil peace. The government job to keep the situation stable is based on the assumption that our job as citizens is to pressurize it.
Democracy is believed to be the best existing (and the only acceptable) political regime because it is able to keep the fierce political struggle within the boundaries of the law. Decisions are not made by the crowds on the street; protesters can sign a resolution, but the decision is still being made by the government structures, based on how convincing the pressure was. In order to win the struggle and defend one’s interest, the activism must go beyond the streets and reach the offices of the public institutions. How can a protest be both civilized and effective? This is a question that requires an answer by the communities themselves.
The on-going protests have shown that the Bo Kaap community is awake and ready to stand for their rights: the right of property, right of dignity, right of heritage and right of identity. Their unequal struggle requires not just an emotional reaction, but a coherent political and policy-making strategy, that would include both public and government relations. It requires intensive and extensive lobbying on many different levels and platforms: electoral, legislative, executive, judicial and media. The moment when such a strategy will be devised and will be implemented, the Muslims of Cape Town will be recognised as a legitimate participant of the current political processes in the country. If this is to happen, very soon we will be able to talk not only about preservation but also about growth and development of the Muslim community in South Africa.
Kareem Maliki is a lecturer of Politics, Dallas College (Bo Kaap, Cape Town)