Location: Kathu town, Northern Cape
Time: 10am South African time
Essential items to carry: a decent pair of running shoes, a scarf to cover your face in case there is tear gas, a jacket in case you’re still stuck there at night and it gets cold – and remember to smile. In situations like this being nice to everyone could make it easier to weave in and out of the police and protesters.
Service delivery protests, as they are called in South Africa, are becoming increasingly common and violent as the poor grow frustrated.
We are a team of three- Shadley, Cyrus and me. We park our car a safe distance from the rowdy crowd.
The police cordon off the road and tell protesters carrying sticks, rocks and steel rods they cannot march into the city centre.
The crowd gets agitated and starts shouting so the police cock their guns.
The protesters in front of the group quiet down a little. After 34 miners were shot and killed at a platinum mine in Marikana in August by police, everyone is generally weary of the cops.
The officer in charge pulls the ring leader of the group aside and asks him to control the crowd.
“No one wants trouble,” he says calmly.
The leader of the protesters, who doesn’t want to give me his real name, tells the rowdy crowd to “take it easy”, and for a few minutes they do.
That’s until a bus carrying construction workers tries to drive through the crowd. They want to get to work.
But that seems to be the problem. Some of the men and women protesting and burning tires aren’t employed. Those who have jobs in the surrounding iron mines are contract workers who say they get low salaries and work is regular.
They want jobs as well as better living standards like piped water, better housing and electricity and tarred roads.
The bus being escorted by the police is forced to turn back.
The crowd celebrates their small victory.
They believe violence is the only way to get the government’s attention.
Who knows if it will work – but for the moment the police aren’t backing down and the crowd is not allowed to march into the city.
A few protesters sit down visibly frustrated.
I watch as a few others set a car tire alight in the middle of the road. The smell of burning rubber is uncomfortable and the plume of black smoke irritates my eyes.
But through the smoke I see men carrying fairly large rocks. They place them in a straight line… their way of blocking any more buses from passing.
The ruling party the African National Congress, the ANC, is under pressure.
How they are going to appease the poor is going to be a challenge.
All I know is I will be attending a lot of these sporadic protests for the rest of the year.