Perspectives - Violent protests and gendered identities
In post-apartheid South Africa there has been a proliferation of public protests occurring in various contexts. While public protests are common globally, in South Africa they appear to be uniquely characterised by extreme forms of violence. The current analysis of public protests suggests that the root causes of public protests are socio-economic and political. However, the role of gendered identities is missing in analyses of violence in public protests. In this perspective, we argue that violent public protests in post-apartheid South Africa are linked to gendered identities in their intersection with race, socio-economic status and social class. First, we contend that public protest violence is due to the gendered division of public and private spaces. In line with this, we claim that, public protests as public phenomena become masculinised such that women are represented as virtually absent or with insignificant contribution to public protests while men tend to be more visible, take the lead, and draw from hypermasculine practices in their approach. Second, we argue that public protests become violent due to the ongoing marginalisation of unemployed and working-class men, which tend to be race based in South Africa. Last, we argue that violence in public protests is due to protection of privilege status by hegemonic groups which invokes radical attempts for inclusion by protesters. This perspective concludes that there needs to be a shift, in both the media and the scholarship on men and masculinities, in how violence of men in public protest is viewed. Much of the work on violence in South Africa is often attributed to problematic aspects of masculinity, yet what is needed is a political project that seeks to dismantle the structure that produces inequalities and, in its resistance to change, provokes frustrations that escalate to violence among protesters.
Keywords: public protests, violence, gender identities, structure, South Africa