Matthew Barnard

When attempting to attend a seminar in the “Ou Hoof” that was to be given by Lobsang Sangay, the head of the Tibetan administration in exile, we were met with “protests”.

There were about forty to fifty people attempting to ensure that the talk did not take place. Their wish was partially
granted as the university did not want to risk possible conflict, closing the doors and not letting more people in.

The talk, originally planned to be open to all students, was reduced to the few faculty members and others who were originally in the building when the protesters arrived.

I must insert the caveat that the above-mentioned, regarding the specific people who managed to attend, is to the best of my knowledge what transpired, but is unverified.

The protesters sported banners calling for “One China” and attacking what they called the Tibetan separatists.

Sangay managed to get into South Africa with his US passport, as members of the Tibetan administration are not allowed in South Africa, due to China politically strong-arming the South African government; as one could recall from the fiasco that resulted in the Dalai Lama being unable to attend Desmond Tutu’s 80th birthday in 2011.

It was fairly apparent from the moment I arrived that the protesters did not actually want to be there, a sentiment that was compounded by the scorching heat. They were at the very least not passionate about securing strong economic and political relations between South Africa and China, which is what they were supposedly attempting to do.

I would also not go to the lengths of the Chinese embassy that claimed there were “fierce protests” attended by “hundreds of outraged South African locals and members of the Chinese community in South Africa.”

Due to my suspicion that this was a sham-protest I started talking to a group of people who were ostensibly protesters. From the outset of our conversation it became apparent that the protestors did not know what they were protesting for, but only that the Chinese had told them to take part in a “peaceful march”.

Upon further enquiry, I found out that the protesters were paid R200 each for the day and bussed in from Milnerton. It was quite a sight to behold. Even if we could overlook the ethically maleficent practice of forhire protesting, the underlying reasons for organising the protest remain deeply troublesome.

The statement on the website of the Chinese embassy in South Africa regarding the protest is utterly laughable and reminiscent of Soviet era propaganda tools.

That statement, coupled with the supposed protest by the “alarmed” South Africans points to a much larger problem; it shows the brazen manner in which world superpowers attempt to exert their influence over the rest of the world.

It was quite obvious that the protest was staged, and most people would be able to notice that, but it did still achieve its goal. It silenced the voice of a political dissident representing a marginalised group.

China has garnered a reputation for doing this in all sorts of different and sometimes nefarious forms. Due to our government’s reliance on China and the fact that we cannot risk losing trade it seems fairly obvious that this type of behaviour will continue.

The little brother cannot exactly reprimand his much more powerful, larger sibling.