WHAT IS CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE AND WHEN IS IT NECESSARY?
In an interview with the Guardian, Al Gore said “Civil disobedience has an honourable history, and when the urgency and moral clarity cross a certain threshold, then I think that civil disobedience is quite understandable, and it has a role to play. And I expect that it will increase, no question about it.”
His comment comes off the back of many important actions, speeches and stances taken by political and civil activists over the centuries, many more famous ones being Mahatma Ghandi, to Martin Luther King, to Alfred Einstein. They all speak of the need to defy the law when one’s moral conscience is sufficiently compelled to act against the laws of a country.
Wikipedia defines “civil disobedience” as “the active, professed refusal to obey certain laws, demands, and commands of a government, or of an occupying international power. Civil disobedience is a symbolic or ritualistic violation of the law, rather than a rejection of the system as a whole. Civil disobedience is sometimes, though not always,defined as being non-violent resistance.”
CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE IN SOUTH AFRICA
South Africa has had its fair share of “civil disobedience,” when previously disadvantaged members of society were subjected to unfair and discriminatory laws under the apartheid regime between the 1800 and 1900’s. In fact, slaves in the Western Cape were ordered to carry passes as far back as 1709.
The Defiance of Unjust Laws Campaign was developed by the African National Congress (ANC) to combat apartheid. More specifically, the campaign used large-scale national non-cooperation to target laws enacted by the South African government that the ANC deemed unjust. The campaign began on June 26, 1952, as groups throughout South Africa executed various acts of defiance in main cities. Scores of protesters defied the curfews and rights of freedom of movement and began travelling into and out of areas which the laws prohibited them to do.
The campaign spread quickly as small towns and even rural areas got involved disobeying unjust laws and in response, the South African Security Police implemented in August 1952 the biggest police raids on the offices and homes of the liberation campaign and its leaders (which included Nelson Mandela who was the President of the ANC Youth League at the time.)
Over the next four decades, the resistance and struggle against apartheid grew, with many unfortunate deaths, pain and suffering borne by Black, Coloured and Indian citizens and visitors to South Africa, until the demise of the system in the early 1990’s.
Were it not for the civil courage and brave actions of many people in the past who defied the unjust laws of the government of the day, the atrocious apartheid system might still be in place today.
CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE FOR E-TOLLING IN GAUTENG
In a similar way to the past law defiance, a modern day civil disobedience campaign against the unjust laws of a new restriction to freedom of movement, has been that which has unfolded and taken up by the motorists of Gauteng in South Africa.
In 2010, the public became aware of a scheme aimed at subjecting the Gauteng province motorists to a new toll road tax, by way of erecting 45 electronic tolling gantries along 185 kilometers of its recently upgraded freeway network.
The scheme generated a lot of confusion and anger amongst not only the general motoring public, but also the unions, business organisations and faith based movements. This gave rise to the formation of OUTA in early 2012, and a long drawn-out legal battle ensued to halt the scheme through the courts. While the litigation unfolded, the public embarked on a “civil disobedience” campaign by refusing to fit the e-tags or pay the fees required.
By the end of August 2015, the public had run up a debt of over R14 Billion with the scheme, which the South African National Roads Agency (SANRAL) decided to offer a 60% discount to entice the public to come on board with the scheme. This offer failed and 2016 saw the South African Government introduce the largest case of state coercion on its citizens, by the rolling out of over 6000 civil summonses against e-Toll defaulters.
OUTA in turn offered to defend its contributing members and the start of a new wave of e-Toll litigation got underway in April 2016.