[T]he new law, . . . made illegal any physical, romantic contact involving anyone under 16, regardless of consent.
But the controversy that news of the looming event generated -- first on the social networking site Facebook, then in radio and newspaper reports -- caused authorities to announce that they had no intention to arrest or prosecute violators of a law enacted just three weeks ago. It amounted to quite a victory for legions of cyberlinked high school students not yet old enough to drive themselves to their own protest.
Strictly speaking, the law criminalized a remarkably broad range of adolescent behavior, including mouth-to-mouth contact of any sort, or any other form of touching that could cause sexual arousal among those under 16.
The law, which authorities said was intended to make it easier to prosecute sexual liaisons between adult men and much-younger girls, and assaults on the mentally disabled, made actual prosecutions of consensual encounters between similarly aged teenagers unlikely, requiring explicit approval from the country's top prosecutor.
Yet news of the law triggered a powerful backlash among thousands of students armed with little more than computers, Facebook accounts and an acute sense of outrage at what they regarded as the clueless behavior of repressive adults. Many teens also posted pictures of themselves in amorous, but largely PG-rated, exchanges.
"You should have the space and time to do that. We're young. We need to experiment," said Natalie Winston, 12, shortly before the protest here. "When you're 21, you're old already, and ugly."
The organizer, or at least instigator, of the movement was Frances Murray, 14, an exuberant denizen of online-networking sites who has long dark hair, and wears black nail polish and braces. Shortly before Christmas, with just a few weeks to go before starting 10th grade under South Africa's scholastic calendar, she learned about the law from a friend while chatting via instant messaging, she said.
"When I checked it out, I thought 'Okay, how am I going to go out and break this law?' " recalled Murray, who dreams of becoming a rock star or, in light of recent events, a political organizer.
After downloading a few news stories, Murray created a Facebook group called "Everybody Against The New Kissing Law." The description of the group included information on the law's effect and a passionate call to action: "Lets band together and stop this law!!!!! It's takin away our freedom of choice and is against Our Human Rights."
Murray said she messaged many of her friends, urging them to take up the cause. After one day, 166 people had joined the group. Then it was 664 on the second day, and she soon began suggesting in her postings a mass action of some sort.
I'm a woman, a Witch, a mother, a grandmother, an eco-feminist, a gardener, a reader, a writer, and a priestess of the Great Mother Earth. Hecate appears in the
Homeric Ode to Demeter, which tells of Hades who caught Persophone
"up reluctant on his golden car and bare her away lamenting. . . . But no one, either of the deathless gods or of mortal men, heard her voice, nor yet the olive-trees bearing rich fruit: only tenderhearted Hecate, bright-coiffed, the daughter of Persaeus, heard the girl from her cave . . . ."