Nothing compares to the feeling of waking up in the morning (hours before your usual alarm goes off) with nerves and excitement thinking about the day ahead. You wonder if you could stomach anything so early in the morning but you know you will need your energy for the day so you nibble on a banana or a piece of toast while sipping on some coffee. Check list upon check list is checked and double checked – the last thing an activist wants is to leave the banner behind or to be the only one without an overall.
On the way to the site, you try and get a glimpse of the sunrise as this is usually only done on new years day at the beach. You finally arrive at the site and assess the situation and go over the plan one last time. As you wait in for go-time you look over at your fellow activists and try to crack a joke to lighten the early morning silence while realizing that coffee was not the best choice for breakfast. After what seems like a lifetime it is finally time to go go go go go, you and the team make your way to the base of the poles and look up at the task ahead thinking wow! “What were we thinking?” This is an ambitious goal but you have faith and trust in your fellow activists that you can do it.
As we make our way up the ropes, one by one, everything around you drowns away and you focus on the task ahead. You don’t think about the fact that you are 20m off the ground, you don’t see the traffic officers below or the fire truck in the distance, you don’t think about the cars below and what their passengers may be thinking, and even the effects of the coffee seem to have disappeared. After years training and practicing for this moment, sweat begins to drip down your brow as your slings are slipping more than you seem to be climbing and the harness is digging into your ribs but you put your all into each and every movement.
When you have made some progress you look over to your fellow activists and see the determination in their eyes and this gives you the strength and energy to carry on but then you remember you packed snacks, you take a sip of water and for this first time you look around and realise you are climbing one of the most monumental structures in Johannesburg, The Nelson Mandela Bridge, the sun is up, the road has been blocked off, there are a lot more traffic officers, the fire truck has arrived and all eyes are on you.
With a new burst of energy you carry on and finally have a working system that has you making a lot more progress and you seem to be gaining some height. The climbers have a conversation and we realise that we will not have all day to climb to the top and so we decide to hang the huge banner even though we were not quite at the top.The pull line is gathered and the full weight of the banner is felt as the wind blows it hopefully in the right direction. A sense of relief can be felt all around and we look over at each other with beaming smiles knowing that we have accomplished what we set out to do and you take a moment to realise what you have just done with the strength and bravery of your fellow activists to fight for the rights of the environment and your fellow South Africans.
As quickly as the banner dropped you realise something has gone wrong, the banner is ripping into strips, your immediate thought is that the stitching must not have been strong enough to handle the weight and the wind but you then see that it has been ripped by someone below to in order to get rid of the banner and the message we are trying to convey. Your heart sinks as you realise all the preparation, training, sleepless nights, hours of climbing was for a few seconds and you pray the photographer was able to get a good image.
Feeling helpless hanging above Jozi, you watch strips of the banner fall to the ground but then you hear “AMANDLA!” and you see your team member with their fist raised in the air and you say “AWETHU!” and remember that you are not alone, we have strength in numbers and no matter how many banners they cut down, protests they try to silence, activists they arrest, facts they deny we will not stop standing up against those who continue to destroy our environment and put profit before people.