South Africa’s Cabinet says people had the right to protest but it adds this cannot be an excuse for violence and criminality. This is at least the third time Cabinet has commented on violent service delivery protests now common around the country and follows rioters destroying a police Casspir last weekend.
“Government acknowledges that citizens have the democratic right, as contained in the Bill of Rights, to express their grievances. However, this right is accompanied by the responsibility to ensure that the rights of others are not infringed upon,” Cabinet said in a statement.
“No one has the right to attack others, to destroy public and private property or to embark on any criminal activity in the name of service delivery protests. Communities must express their discontent in a responsible and constructive manner. The violent and destructive nature of some of the protests is unacceptable,” the statement added.
Cabinet’s latest word comes as protesters in Mpumalanga over the weekend ambushed and destroyed police Casspir armoured vehicle and fire-bombed municipal and other property.
“Government accepts that the protests are a symptom of accumulated discontent about a range of issues pertaining to the delivery of basic services. Many of these issues raised during these protests are already receiving attention at the highest level in government. We remain committed to addressing issues of service delivery through the implementation of the Local Government Turnaround Strategy, whose primary objective is to ensure that local government is strengthened to urgently attend to the service delivery concerns of all communities.
“Cabinet approved the new outreach initiative, which will be known as the Public Participation Programme, previously known as Izimbizo programme. The new approach seeks to reinforce accountability to citizens through continuous public participation events throughout the year. Every member of the executive will undertake at least ten public engagements per annum to interact directly with communities and stakeholders throughout the country, instead of limiting this interaction to just one week.
“This initiative will close the gap between Government and the citizens and allow a two-way information flow. Members of the executive [ministers] will be required to undertake a visit to a community and/or meet with stakeholders at least twice a year to ensure that there is direct feedback on all issues raised by communities. At least 4 250 community events will be held around the country annually. This decision will be tabled at the next Presidential Coordinating Council to ensure that there is buy-in from the provincial and local government spheres,” the statement said.
Mpumalanga police spokesman Captain Leonard Hlathi says the Casspir was ambushed on Saturday at Ogies in the eastern Mpumalanga province. The vehicle was “irreparably damaged when it was ‘outrageously attacked’ by a mob who petrol bombed it several times,” the South African Press Association reported about the incident. “The protesters apparently led the Casspir into an ambush, by leading it over an improvised spike strip to puncture its tyres.
Three of the heavy vehicles’ puncture proof tyres were blown out when it drove over the spikes, that were camouflaged with branches. Hlathi said the protesters were targeting the 10 police officers in the vehicle. The trapped police officers were forced to fight their way out, using sharp-point ammunition. “They had to get out of the vehicle. By that time it had been bombed several times,” said Hlathi. “If they didn’t fight back and if they weren’t assisted by reinforcements who came to help, we would have been talking about a different matter entirely.”
Hlathi said it wasn’t clear how many times the vehicle was bombed or how long the spikes that were used to blow out the tyres were, or what they were made of. “They do have puncture proof tyres, but the spikes were too long,” said Hlathi. One protester was injured during the violence, but Hlathi said there may have been more. “They [the protesters] carried the wounded away,” he said.
Sixty-one people have been arrested for public violence during service delivery protests in Mpumalanga over the long weekend. Twenty-nine of these were in Leslie near Secunda after a municipal building and other property were burnt down. Another 32 were arrested in the Ogies protest. “Several cars were pelted with stones and 20 complaints have already been registered for malicious damage to property cases.” Four civilian Toyota Quantum minibus taxis, a Condo, and two bakkies were also burnt out.
The Ogies protest started on Thursday, when a march was held to hand over a memorandum to representatives of the provincial government. “It is alleged the authorities did not turn up as requested. The people went on rampage, barricading the roads with burning tyres and burning down property.”
Competition behind protests: ANC Gauteng chair
The ruling alliance in the Gauteng last week told the media a lack of service delivery was not the cause of protests across the province in recent months. The African National Congress (ANC), Congress of SA Trade Unions and the SA Communist Party said the province was “unique” in that protests were taking place in “communities where there is a lot of development underway”.
Often people witnessed development in their own areas and felt left out, ANC provincial chairman David Makhura explained at a media briefing in Johannesburg, SAPA said. “It is not lack of service delivery, but problems arising from development underway in these areas that have drawn communities to action.”
Describing the protests as a “contradiction of development”, Makhura said: “When there’s no development there’s not much to fight over. “Our local structures are very much affected by the politics of development. Non-delivery, where there is completely nothing, people sit there and really pray, but where there is something they fight over who must benefit.” The protests could also be about who was recruited to work on those projects and who received tenders for them.
“Development brings new problems. Once you have one thing delivered, there is a lot to fight over. The first thing is who must… get the job in the area. That alone brings lots of infighting in an area, even amongst ordinary members of the community. “Secondly, who are the people who are going to work in that project?”
Infighting and jostling for leadership positions were also among the reasons for protests, Makhura said. “Councillors are being deliberately maligned and discredited by those who are positioning themselves for the list [nomination for election] process,” Makhura said. This was something that was “well-known” in the ranks of the ANC, he said, particularly as next year’s local government elections approached.
The alliance would meet its structures at local level and urge them to wait for formal processes to begin. Makhura said the alliance leadership would visit areas that had seen service delivery protests to address concerns raised by residents. It also called on the government to fast-track service delivery by focusing on “quick fix” areas including waste collection, provision of electricity and water, cutting grass, maintenance of public spaces and removing people illegally occupying property. The alliance condemned the violent nature of the protests, saying irrespective of whether grievances were justified, it was not enough to resort to violence, SAPA said.
The ANC and government have in previous year alleged apartheid-era operatives and others opposed to it were behind the protests. Others have suggested the reasons now avered by Makhura.