October 27, 2021


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Rise of mass action in South Africa should serve as a warning to government

Bills on gender-based violence, to solve problems in the criminal justice system, are sent to Parliament

On average, eight protests a day took place in South Africa in July, the highest in a single month since 2013, data from the Institute of Security Studies (ISS) revealed.

“A worrying trend is the substantial increase in the number of events over the past two months. From March 1 to 26, before the lockdown, there were 42 protests, an average of almost two a day, ”wrote Lizette Lancaster, Crime Hub manager and Godfrey Mulaudzi, researcher, Justice and Violence Prevention in the ‘ISS.

They added that between March 27 and April 30, during the most stringent lockdown phase, 59 protests were recorded, an average of two per day.

“The protests in South Africa have exposed socio-economic weaknesses resulting from poor policy implementation and a fundamental failure of political leadership.”

They highlighted the recent incident in the Eastern Cape, which they described as “disturbing”, and involved the chief whip of Raymond Mhlaba municipality, Lindelwa Penisi. who was filmed swearing at community members who had suffered from an unreliable water supply for months.

Penisi allegedly redirected a tanker truck to another area, allegedly to “punish” his “political detractors”. One of the expressions she used was “I don’t care!”, Reflecting the common view that political leaders don’t care.

Rising anger, dangerous confrontations

Lancaster and Mulaudzi say if trends are anything to watch, the severe government-imposed lockdown “will result in many more protests” as economic hardship and hunger sweep the country.

“The country is currently caught up in a myriad of corruption scandals linked to politically connected people stealing funds meant to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic. We can therefore expect to see a growing number of angry South Africans taking to the streets to express their frustration and disgust with a political elite seen as out of touch with the plight of ordinary people.

In July, the Western Cape recorded the most protests (33%), followed by Gauteng (27%), KwaZulu-Natal (17%) and the Eastern Cape (15%).

These are the most populous provinces and also the hardest hit by the pandemic.

The main cause of the protests was the policing of lockdown restrictions and crime (14%) with a particular focus on gender-based violence.

The second most prevalent issue among those taking to the streets was work-related concerns (13%), mainly the provision of protective equipment to staff such as healthcare workers.

Third, there were the problems with the electricity supply, particularly in Gauteng due to power outages and restrictions during peak periods.

And although some events are missed if they go unreported, the ISS said its Protest and Public Violence Monitor, which has been tracking and reporting on protests across the country since January 2013, provides a good indicator of trends in the world. over time.

Disproportionate responses

The ISS said the government, especially at the local level, must understand that the solution does not lie in tighter policing.

“There will of course be a role for the police if violence breaks out. In such cases, law enforcement should seek to ease tensions and promote dialogue to the extent possible before resorting to brutal tactics.

Lancaster and Mulaudzi said next year’s local elections would give South Africans the opportunity to vote against “problematic leaders,” adding that if political parties ignore the call to prioritize people, communities will force change through more protests.

“The country has a long history of using protests to voice grievances, and it is perhaps the only democratic right that many believe they can use to change government policy and action,” they said.

A government driven by ego rather than heart

Last month, Busi Mavuso, CEO of Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA), said in a impactful weekly bulletin that the government is too “easily bent by powerful lobbies” instead of clearly acting in the best interests of all.

She expressed concern that South Africans are feeling increasingly estranged from government, adding that “people are becoming more desperate given unemployment and economic conditions, (this) will give rise to a risk of palpable anger and dangerous confrontations ”.

Two things are now clear to the public, Mavuso said.

“First, decisions are made without their concerns being heard, and when they take to the streets to protest and make their voices heard, they face state-sponsored violence.”

She described the scenes of police using water cannons against restaurant workers demonstrating in Cape Town as “shocking”.

“Right now it feels like the government is acting on impulse, motivated by ego rather than heart. And there will be growing resentment over the callous treatment of protesters. ”

Mavuso said President Cyril Ramaphosa needs to show the leadership he showed during the early stages of the crisis by listening, showing empathy and turning the tide when the consequences of decisions become clear.


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