What makes activism what it is and what is activism?

Depending where you stand it can either be a quest for social change or seen as a threat by those ‘protecting’ current practices. Just in the last week South Africans have been bombarded with news items on civil protest in Soweto aimed at foreign shop owners who are allegedly selling fake or expired food items. On the other hand there was also the report in Fin24 on 23 April of two environmental activists who won an award for their campaign against the Zuma-administration’s nuclear deal. In contrast, Greenpeace was fined this week for sending their activists to climb Nelson Mandela Bridge in Joburg to place a banner speaking out against coal forming part of the newly proposed Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) announced by Minister Jeff Radebe earlier in the week (News24, 28 August 2018).

Activism involves people and actions. It starts with a social issue, a social ill which affects many either now or will affect people in the future. The issue needs publicity to create awareness and individuals to start spreading information as to the effect of current practices. It needs like-minded supporters – activists – to group together as a social movement to explain and demonstrate various alternatives to the current practices. Activists need to be passionate about their cause, informed, and able to collaborate with communities to ensure that they are representing those at the margins or are truly speaking for those who may not have access or the power to voice their opinion. This may also take a substantial amount of time which calls for long term commitment as we saw in the example of the anti-nuclear award winning activists.

Change is inevitable but actively seeking social change needs strategy, motivated actors and committed followers with vision, communication skills and resources.

By Rene Benecke

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