University of the Free State (UFS) student Eckhard Binding has told The Citizen that he only persisted with his attempt to throw away litter during a protest on campus last week because he was trying to set “a good example”.
Video footage of the one scene that played out during the protest last week led by, among others, the EFF, led many to criticise the party and its members and jump to the support of Binding.
In the clip, the singleminded young man can be seen picking up litter strewn during the protest and putting it in a trash bin, only for two waiting female EFF members to throw it back on the ground, rather mockingly.
The clip only emerged on social media on Monday and went hugely viral, being viewed globally.
Instead of Eckhard just giving up, he remained determined to make his point, so the scene repeated itself numerous times, with Binding simply continuing to pick up litter and attempt unsuccessfully to put it back in the bin. It was then tossed right back out.
One vocal video blogger, Renaldo Gouws, in response has even go so far as to tell EFF supporters they are “a problem”.
Less acerbic criticism of the party and its protest nevertheless wanted to know if it was now EFF policy to trash property during protests, a question that was posed to party spokesman Mbuyiseni Ndlozi.
Others said one should not judge an entire protest, or group for that matter, by the actions of a few EFF members alone while still others pointed out that the video appeared to have become an excuse for people to vent their racism.
Binding said he hadn’t really thought through why he was doing it too much, and only contemplated it fully afterwards.
“Last week we had some protests here at UFS regarding the outsourcing of employees such as the facilities workers, and some students and political parties and workers thought it would be right to protest.
“We generally see that protest actions do not run smoothly on campuses or in general. They moved through the bridge [shop and restaurant area] and tipped every table and kicked every bin they could; broke chairs. One person actually threw a chair at me, that same person from the video. It was at an earlier stage.
“The whole incident was about 30 minutes long. The video clip itself only captured the last minute or so.”
He said of why he’d then decided to start picking up the litter was because “I got angry. Alone, you cannot do anything other than to set a good example. That is all I tried to do there.
“Any sort of statement I was trying to make, it was not intentional. My thing is, just, I have pride in my campus, in the things I associate with. I just felt if we can maybe get some more UFS students who are proud of this place, we can clean up and maybe the protesters will feel bad, and decide to take it easy. That was not the case.”
He said he hadn’t expected the video to go viral.
“I didn’t think it would get this big. Every now and then you hear about a racial debacle or some good deed on the internet, but it never really goes big. I was not too bothered about that either. But having one and a half million views on Facebook by this morning at eight o’clock is spectacular. I can’t have wished for this to have gone any better.”
He said he had received pledges of money, reportedly at least R10,000 from strangers, along with a bursary, since the clip became famous, “But I haven’t received the funds just yet. There are actually numerous people who have wanted to donate. I think if we’re going to have a look at how many people, it’s quite a few from all over the world … Dubai, Canada, USA … who want to donate.”
He said they would create an online fund managed by Absa, but that was not yet confirmed, and the R10,000 would just be the start.
“We’ll take all the money we get and put it back into the #StartTalkingSA campaign.”
When asked about what had gone through his mind during the protest, he said “the amount of hate that flows through you is really imminent … but you realise that there’s a right thing to do even if it’s not necessarily the one that gives you the most satisfaction. I just decided to keep my mouth shut for the whole time. I know if I start getting offensive with someone, then it’s not going to stop. The best thing to do is just to shut your mouth and do your job. It was all good.”
He said Start Talking SA was an idea his father had come up with while driving back from Pretoria, in December.
“The main project is to promote language studies and debate. The university workers would receive little benefit from the funds, even if it were intended for them. There are around 700 workers, and estimated donations of around R35,000. The math says that each worker would receive exactly R50. This is not enough to make a difference in their lives. But when the funds are used collectively, we can reinvest in society on a much larger scale.”