The Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) has been following the recent events that have been characterised by widespread violence in South Africa that has resulted in 72 deaths. CSVR condemns the surge of violence in the strongest terms and conveys its condolences to the families who have lost their loved ones as a result of the ongoing violence.
While the protests and looting were sparked by the imprisonment of the former President, this descent into lawlessness and violence needs to be understood in relation to the broader socio-economic context of poverty, inequality and failures in governance. Due to numerous lockdown restrictions implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy has contracted and South Africans have lost jobs, particularly those who are already living precariously on the margins of society. This has been noted in StatsSA's Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) for the first quarter of 2021, which highlighted an unemployment rate of 32,6%. This is the highest rate of unemployment since the QLFS was first published in 2008. Of particular concern is the fact that 3,3 million (32,4%) out of 10,2 million young people aged 15-24 years were not in employment, education or training.
The criminality and violence that has unfolded is a result of a combination of factors involving internal ANC politics and a failure of police intelligence. The underlying cause is however the country's fractured social contract. The state has failed to seriously address the inherited inequalities of apartheid and has facilitated a culture of corruption and self-enrichment, which has only escalated during the pandemic. The failure of the state to provide adequate support to those most directly impacted by the pandemic has further contributed to this crisis of legitimacy. Poor leadership, poor governance and a culture of impunity create volatility and threaten sustainable peace.
We note with great concern that President Ramaphosa has authorised the deployment of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to assist the South African Police Service (SAPS) in maintaining law and order. While strong and decisive action is required to protect lives and property, South Africans have reason to be fearful of what such a militarised response could mean. As seen during the hard lockdown when the military patrolled poor communities, they are ill equipped to deal with civilians. They are not trained to deal with civilians involved in looting or protests, and they are not equipped with non-lethal weapons. Their role in situations such as this are not clearly defined and their history of overstepping their role with impunity, as in the case of Collins Khosa, has undermined public trust.
We urge the President and security forces to act decisively, but within clear boundaries as required by our system of human rights, and to ensure that an over-zealous militarised response does not further inflame public anger and polarisation.
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