The Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation strongly condemns the heavy handedness of the South African Police and law enforcement agencies, particularly the use of live ammunition to control the protesters in Tembisa on Monday 1 August 2022. This led to the confirmed death of two protesters on the day, and the death toll has since increased to four.
The protests followed the breakdown in communications between the members of the Ekurhuleni Mayoral committee represented by the Councillor for Tembisa Siyanda Makhubo and the Tembisa Community Forum. CSVR further strongly condemns the destruction of public property and the vandalism of community infrastructures by the protesters.
We express our condolences to the families of those who have died and our solidarity for their desire for accountability and justice.
The approach in handling the violent protests directly speaks to the lack of leadership in understanding and working with communities to address socio-economic challenges that are not new to South African communities. The rapid increase in the cost of living on the back of the COVID-19 crisis, the high levels of unemployment, increase in rates and electricity levies comes on the heels of the rampant fuel price increases. Families living in poor resourced communities face an increasing burden of putting food on the table and are falling under the poverty line into distress and food insecurity. Many needy families are excluded from the R350 social grant and the calls from civil society actors for an increase of this grant has been largely ignored. The R350 social grant is not adequate to support a family and prevent them from falling below the breadline.
Responsive and accountable leadership would have seen the urgent need to mitigate these issues by work with community leaders and key community influencers to create platforms for dialogues on the cost-of-living challenges facing communities such as Tembisa.
There is an urgent need for visionary leadership that is present in communities, to build relational bridges and be proactive in addressing challenges instead of the current reactionary approach to crisis where leadership becomes visible only when there are threats of violence. There is also need for a much wider stakeholder engagement and platforms to give voice to community challenges and allow those most affected to have their issues raised. Instead, government actors make unilateral decisions hoping that communities will comply and accept these changes that severely impact their livelihoods. This top-down approach is no longer tenable to South African communities.
Police brutality is a clear indication of the failure of law enforcement agencies to effectively manage protests. Protesters have a right to protest and a right to life that is protected by our constitution. Police have to respect these rights and be equipped and trained to manage protests without trampling on these rights. Under our legal framework, the State is required to take all reasonable steps to prevent excessive use of force by law enforcement and protect the lives and safety of the public. The public order policing units must therefore be appropriately equipped, trained and their operations carefully planned and implemented.
The recent deaths of those engaged in exercising their right to protest in Tembisa is indicative of the failure of SAPS to ensure public order policing within acceptable international legal and human rights standards, as well as South African laws. The killing of protestors is a brutal reminder that not enough has been done to reform SAPS. The deaths in Tembisa come on the eve of the 10-year anniversary of the 16 August 2012 massacre of 34 miners in Marikana in the hands of police. The lack of justice and failure to effectively reform police since then is now haunting our society. The reforms that were recommended by the panel of experts who reviewed the causes of the massacre have also clearly not been taken seriously. It is unacceptable that our police have failed to learn the lessons from their previous failures. These lessons have been spelled out and backed up by international best practice. Without justice and accountability, there does not seem to be sufficient incentive to change. The repeated brutality experienced by our communities cannot be allowed to continue.
"Our recommendations are two-fold: We need to address public order policing reforms and accountability; and we need the state to engage more proactively with the key drivers of violence in society. This calls for safe spaces for dialogue in dealing with the problem of violent protests in South Africa – from a root cause, key driver, trigger and fueller perspectives", says Annah Moyo-Kupeta, Executive Director at CSVR.
The work of CSVR promotes peaceful, equal and violence-free societies. Our mission is to promote sustainable peace at community, national, regional and global levels by understanding, preventing and addressing the effects of violence and inequality.
For more information, please contact Ms Karen Pillay, at firstname.lastname@example.org or +27 82 462 5335
Executive Director CSVR