COSATU Strike & Protest March – Klerksdorp
On Wednesday, 7 March 2012, I took to the streets with my camera to capture a few photos of the COSATU Strike and Protest march in Klerksdorp. I arrived at the starting point of the protest march at around 9am and took a few shots of the rapidly growing crowd. By 10:30 when they started their march into the Klerksdorp City centre along Oliver Tambo street the crowd had grown to between 2000 and 3000 people. This is quite a crowd for Klerksdorp!
Though there was a strong police presence to watch over the protesters, no incidents of violence or unruly behaviour was noted.
Considering the nature of the protest march one would expect some angry faces and rebellious behaviour, but the crowd was actually very friendly and well behaved. A first for me was also the presence of a number of white people supporting the protest march and even wearing COSATU support T-Shirts. Before the march started there were a few short speeches and announcements by the marshals explaining the purpose of the protest march and asking the crowd to adhere to the instructions of the marshals. When the protest march got under way the large crowd was split into 4 smaller groups by the marshals with a gap of about 50 metres between them. This served to prevent pushing and shoving and reduce tension as a whole. Since the marshals also had these smaller groups to control things moved along much more easily and without incident Credit should be given to the COSATU marshals who also kept the protesters away from side-walks and cars to prevent damage and disruption to businesses. Many businesses had closed their doors before the protesters arrived, but by the time the first groups had passed many re-opened their doors when they noticed that the crowd was behaving themselves.
Other than traffic disruption, which was well managed by the traffic department and police, the crowd of protesters moved smoothly through the town. The pace was kept intentionally slow, not to purposefully disrupt traffic, but as a show of force to the “powers that be” that they felt strongly for the issues at hand.
Though the main reason for the protest march was to protest the implementation of the e-Tolling system in Gauteng, the main focus in the Klerksdorp area was the protest against the use of Labour Brokering. Some protesters did brandish posters against the e-Tolling system, but the majority carried anti-Labour Brokering placards.
When the march reached its end at Voortrekker road the groups were combined again to create on large crowd in preparation for the keynote address and handing over of the memorandum. When the crowd started merging I looked out for a higher vantage point from where I could capture the “Sea of Red”. I spoke to a local business owner who had a balcony above his shop and I quickly got permission to go up the stairs to capture the crowd from above.
Much of the crowd had already started moving around the corner, but I did manage to capture a few shots. The crowd looked much more daunting from above, even in the smaller groups they had been broken up into.
Tips for Photographers
Doing this kind of photography requires some confidence as you need to move in and amongst the throng to capture good photos. Zoom or Telephoto lenses just never seem to capture the details as well as shorter lenses when you get in close. You need to read the crowd and decide for yourself if it is safe to move amongst them. At no point did I feel threatened or in any danger by this crowd, but you should be aware that a crowd can turn at any moment. In Rustenburg the march was going well until a careless driver struck one of the protesters with her car.
Irrespective of who was at fault in the incident, it turned a crowd who were fairly organised and well-behaved into a violent group. If you decide to venture into this kind of photography you should also note that it is best to keep moving. You do not want to stick to a specific area or with a specific group of people. Some protesters enjoy being photographed and will often group together as they all want to be in the photo. This can cause crowding and tension and make the marshal’s job more difficult. As soon as people start thronging because of your camera and the desire to “be in the shot”, you as a photographer might become the result of violence when the protesters start stepping on each others toes! Get the shot of what is naturally happening, don’t force situations. Keeping focus on a group for too long can become dangerous to you and those around you if you have an emotionally charged crowd.
All photos shot with a SONY A55 and 28-75mm SAM Lens.
More photos can be found in my Facebook Album