As disaffected youth protest over poverty and politics, police policy needs to change – expert


As the gap between the rich and the poor widens, rioting is becoming a common sight amongst disaffected youth, from Algeria to the United Kingdom. As a result, governments need to overhaul their responses to rioting

Syria, Libya, Yemen, Egypt and Tunisia are still being gripped by protests while African countries have also been rocked by protests against the political situation, high cost of living and poverty – Ugandans, for instance, have been protesting the high cost of living, resulting in a government crackdown.

Even South Africa, the largest economy in Africa, regularly experiences service delivery protests. Most recently, this week supporters of ANC Youth League President Julius Malema turned violent whilst voicing their support for him and attacked police and journalists at Malema’s disciplinary hearing.
“As the income gap expands, the matter [of public protest] has affected almost every country with a big disaffected youth population,” Irvin Kinnis, conflict resolution and crime prevention practitioner told defenceWeb. “In South Africa this has been more acute because of the disenchantment of young people with the societal crises that faces them.”

Indeed, millions of South Africans live in poverty and are still waiting for the houses and jobs promised them after the 1994 election and service delivery protests happen almost every day. However, there is still widespread support for the ANC-run government and so far South Africa has not seen any mass anti-government protests such as have occurred elsewhere in Africa. Kinnis explains this is due to the fact that “the legitimacy of the government has not been questioned and it still has the majority support amongst poor people.”

He notes that to deal with the problem of public protests, the government must get to the cause of it. “I think there has to be a whole of government and whole of society approach to dealing with it. The police cannot alone be expected to deal with it when it escalates to violence. We have to make sure that all government departments are held to account for their non performance and non-delivery of services.”

Kinnis emphasises the importance of intelligence in dealing with public protests and suggests governments spend more on this like iris scanning and surveillance equipment rather than conventional arms and riot gear. During the London riots, rioters made extensive use of technology (such as Facebook, Twitter and BlackBerry Messenger) to coordinate themselves, prompting authorities to monitor such devices and subsequently prosecute people based on the messages they sent out during the protests.
“Given that conditions in every country changes and sometimes rapidly, it is important that policing agencies beef up their ability to predict through intelligence when such events will explode into violence,” Kinnis notes. “Therefore strategic analysis of the situation must be regular and routinised within police agencies. Policy plays an immensely important role, especially when it comes to inter-departmental collaboration in policing such events.”
“The recent riots in England have shown that the UK methods of policing crowds have been brought into question. Its very difficult to believe that the UK policing methods will be trusted by other policing agencies after the manner in which they handled the protests,” stated Kinnis.

The protests and rioting that have rocked the world have shown that existing protest control measures need overhauling. For this reason the South African ministry of police this week approved a new policy for the police to better manage public protests. It calls for the establishment of public order policing units with the South African Police Service, the better training of personnel, adequate intelligence to predict riots, the establishment of contingency plans and the reequipment of police forces.

Irvin Kinnes is a conflict resolution and crime prevention practitioner with Kinnes and Associates. He is the chief director, Policy and Research, Civilian Secretariat for Police and holds an HDE (UWC), MSc (London School of Economics). He is also a PhD candidate at the Centre of Criminology at the University of Cape Town.

He will be speaking at defenceWeb’s Public Order Policing conference next month. There he will be discussing the Western cape Public Order Policing unit and their approach to policing public events and legal and illegal marches with a special focus on the taxi industry and the violence that was perpetrated there.

For more on this subject, consider attending defenceWeb‘s Public Order Policing conference at Gallagher Estate on October 3-4.

For more information contact Maggie Pienaar at ++27 11 807 3294 or [email protected]

A detailed programme is available here.