Service delivery protest turns violent

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Police fired rubber bullets at protestors in Zenzele, Ekurhuleni, after running battles with residents protesting the lack of electricity and other services.

Residents of the Zenzele informal settlement in Daveytown in the former East Rand were woken in the middle of the night by vuvuzelas calling for service delivery protests to begin. Hundreds of residents took to the streets on Tuesday night, barricading streets with burning tyres and concrete pipes.

Residents were demanding electricity, which they say they had been promised. One resident told The New Age that the area had been waiting for electricity since 1995 and that many rural areas were better off. They said residents were told to wait for an old power station to be upgraded before they can receive electricity.

Eight people were arrested for public violence following Tuesday’s protests, with one of those being charged with assaulting a police officer. Residents hurled stones and other objects at police and moving cars.
“The residents are angry and tired of waiting. There will be more violence at night if their demands are not met,” resident and youth leader Kenneth Maduna told The New Age. “If we do not get what we want we will restart the strike.” Relative calm returned to Zenzele yesterday but barricades were not removed.

South Africa has all the basic ingredients for the type of dissatisfaction that could lead to highly contagious anti-government protests of the like seen in North Africa, experts warn, emphasising the continuing need for public order police.
“We have the basic ingredients for social disenchantment,” says Elrena van der Spuy, associate professor at the University of Cape Town, when referring to the great social inequality present in South Africa. “North African developments are useful reminders for protests to spread and be contagious.”

She says that the high number of young unemployed males in South Africa make the country a fertile breeding ground for protests similar to those in North Africa as there is great social inequality and large numbers of young people willing to take part in protests.

According to Brigadier ‘Happy’ Schutte, operational head of the Crime Combating Units Gauteng, an Arab Spring style revolution could happen tomorrow in South Africa as large numbers of disaffected youth make up society – 80% of the youth in townships are unemployed, he said.

It just takes the right people to stir up a crowd, “then you’re going to have a problem.” From his own experience, it takes only one person breaking a window to turn a crowd violent. In Tunisia it was the self immolation of a single grocery seller (who set fire to himself after police confiscated his wares because he lacked a permit) that kicked off the protests there, which then spread to many other Arab countries because people were dissatisfied with conditions in society.

There are many opportunities for protests to get out of hand in South Africa, especially during increasingly common service delivery protests. Last year, for instance, four people were killed, 94 injured and 750 arrested during protests, according to the South African Institute for Race Relations (SAIRR).
“With time, ferment and the pressures of popular expectations will build up a powerful head of steam,” notes Professor Lawrence Schlemmer, director of strategic research company MarkData, suggesting that it is only a matter of time before mass protests erupt if social conditions do not change.

This results in high demand for police to deal with such protests. “The demand for specialised public order policing capacity will grow,” van der Spuy says. She predicts a continuing need for public order police as there are a variety of threats that require such police forces internationally and on the African continent. Such threats include gang warfare, organised crime, ethnic violence, public protests and post election violence.
“We can’t manage crowds in Gauteng because we don’t have staff,” Schutte notes. He also says there is a dire lack of training and equipment as there are only two water cannons available for the Pretoria/Johannesburg area. “They must bring back public order policing units,” he says.

Schutte will be speaking about some of these issues at defenceWeb’s Public Order Policing conference next month. He has had 20 years’ experience in dealing with crowd situations in South Africa.

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.