Protest ends ‘not with a bang, but with a whimper’
His sin was that he is a cultural ambassador for the Woolworths retail chain and is collaborating with the retailer on its “Are You With Us?” campaign.
And Woolworths’ “sin”, according to the pro-Palestinian lobby group, operating under the guise of an NGO striving for peace in the Middle East, is that the retailer stocks some Israeli produce on its shelves.
Last weekend BDS won an interdict against GrandWest’s Tsogo Sun hotel group, allowing BDS “a mere 16 000” protesters at the casino entrance. But the mountain bore a mouse, with only some 1 000 protesters pitching up for this “mother of all protests”.
What they lacked in numbers they made up in invective, with a three-year-old boy shrilly shouting: “Free the Palestinians!” and many home-made banners perpetuating the canard of Israel as an apartheid state. One banner was more blunt, telling Williams “to go to hell”.
In the meantime, patrons undisturbed entered the casino for a sold-out performance by a top-class artist, with a huge stage erected near the entrance to the casino.
The police and metro police were out in force to control the expected thousands. But in the end the BDS hype should have left some egg on the face of BDS head honcho Muhammed Desai. However, an unrepentant Desai would have nothing of it, proclaiming the protest a huge success – “the biggest demonstration against any musician” on South African soil.
BDS initially applied to the City of Cape Town for permission for 50 000 protesters to congregate outside the venue, but it was refused.
BDS challenged the decision in the Cape Town High Court and the court ruled on Saturday that 16 000 would be allowed to protest. In a media release BDS hailed it as a major victory.
The Sun International hotel group, owners of GrandWest Casino, had launched an urgent court interdict on September 14 to limit the number of protesters outside Williams’ concert, but the group withdrew its court application, due to be heard last Friday, against the local BDS branch.
Last month, BDS-SA board member Braam Hanekom said: “[Williams] is about to face the biggest backlash any artist has faced in South Africa in over 30 years, since the days of apartheid. He is walking into a very angry, unhappy environment because he has chosen to walk with Woolworths,” he told Reuters.
Hanekom threatened that protesters may block roads on concert nights or rally inside venues. A second Williams concert is due to take place in Johannesburg on Thursday at The Dome venue.
Kirsten Hewitt, speaking on behalf of Woolworths, said: “Woolworths respects the constitutional rights of protesters to express their views lawfully without infringing the right of others.” Woolworths has repeatedly denied that it stocks any produce emanating from the occupied territories.
BDS stated in a media release that, “international mobilisation, mass protests, global boycotts and specifically the cultural and sports boycott against the oppressive and racist apartheid system in South Africa, were used as ways to mobilise huge pressure on the apartheid regime in the 1980s, largely accelerating our struggle towards freedom.
“It is in recognition of the militant and courageous internationalism of the 1980s that we take to the streets today in what will be a historic gathering – expected to be the largest protest event in South African history against any musician or artist,”.
The protesters staged a concert of their own, as music blared from loudspeakers and many danced on the grass. A beaming Desai posed with a placard – under a Cape Times banner head – proclaiming: “Thousands to make Pharrell unhappy”. “Woolworths supports apartheid”, another poster proclaimed.
Among the groups pitching up for the protest were the ANC – with provincial leader Marius Fransman making political capital out of the fact that the City of Cape Town would only allow 150 protesters to take part, without mentioning that that figure had been suggested by the SAPS – the ANC Youth League and Women’s League, the SA Communist Party, the student organisation, Sasco, the trade union umbrella body Cosatu and the Muslim Judicial Council.
“Pharrell has blood on his hands,” a representative from the South African Communist Party proclaimed to thunderous applause, adding that genocide is taking place and the world is silent about it
A speaker from the Muslim Judicial Council described Williams as a “traitor”, a betrayer of Palestine blood.
“You sing, you are happy; do you see the children dying by the number? What are you happy about?”
Desai told the crowd: “Over 551 Palestinian children under 16 were killed in six weeks a year ago. Woolworths and Pharrell were silent.”
According to News24, he added: “Those who have gone back to Woolworths: we know who you are and where you live. Come back home.”
Desai on Monday told News24 that the #BoycottWoolworths campaign was far bigger than just a local organisation hoping to make a noise.
“The boycott is not a malicious boycott or punitive. It’s simply aimed at how we can get Israel to end its occupation according to international law.” he said.
Not everyone, however, is endorsing the BDS call to boycott Israel – and Williams – wanting to know why BDS doesn’t touch on issues closer to home and why atrocities in Syria, Iraq and Yemen never get a mention.
Tweeters had a field day. Khayelihle Khumalo said: “I am fully behind the Palestinian cause, but Pharrell is a global star, people just wanna have fun; this protest is misguided.”
Wilson Faraday was not amused. “A… bunch of attention seekers fighting for something they know nothing about, using a celeb’s fame to get some media attention… GET A LIFE!”
Claudio Ferri was also very outspoken: “These shameful hypocrites concern themselves with a few food products on the shelves at Woolworths while their compatriots are slaughtering themselves like animals in sectarian violence in the thousands in the Middle East and homeless refugees are making their way to Europe because the conditions at home are intolerable. I see no protest against that?”