Service delivery protests result in call for police clampdown

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The recent service delivery protests this week in Gauteng, which caused millions of rands worth of damage, resulted in the ANC calling for a clampdown on illegal protests, which continue to underline the need for adequate governance and public order policing.

This week service delivery protests in Thembelihle, south of Johannesburg, resulted in more than R1.5 million damage after residents set fire to three electricity load centres, The New Age reports. Residents were protesting against poor housing, water shortages and corruption. As they threw stones, damaged cars and infrastructure and set fires, the police responded with rubber bullets and arrested dozens of protestors.

The protests, as well as those that occurred outside ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema’s disciplinary hearing at Luthuli House in central Johannesburg, have prompted the Gauteng ANC to call on law enforcement agencies to clamp down on protests.
“It is our view that last week’s violence outside Luthuli House was part of this dangerous trend” of some members using violence to challenge the ANC, the ruling party’s David Makhura told Eyewitness News.
“The law enforcement agencies such as the South African Police Service and the Johannesburg Metro Police Department should clamp down on illegal and violent protests,” he added.

The ministry of police is making headway, having late last month approved a policy for the police to better manage public protests. The approval of the policy underlines the fact that protests in South Africa, particularly related to service delivery, consume vast police resources and are a major problem that needs to be deal with.
“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, one of the reasons for service delivery protests is the failure of local governments to engage people in the political process. At municipal level, protestors have regularly complained about the unresponsiveness of officials and councillors, the Afesis-corplan NGO notes, adding that channels of communication with municipal mayors and councillors are often blocked.

Of course, the non-delivery of services, particularly housing, water taps and ablution facilities, is a major cause of protests. Such protests are unlikely to stoop until services are delivered, but more importantly that the government starts responding to the people. Colonel (retd) David Peddle points out that protests only halt when there is a wholesale change of government, such as is the case in Libya. Protests continue in Egypt, particularly in Tahrir Square, because the politics of the country have not changed much.
“In South Africa there will probably continue to be – and possibly an increased number – of service delivery protests,” Peddle says. This will get worse around election time people protest to voice their dissatisfaction. “I suspect as we get closer to local elections there will be increased disturbances based on political agendas,” Peddles notes.

However, Peddle says the chances of an Arab Spring revolution in South Africa are slim as the level of dissatisfaction with the political structure has not reached the right level. Peddle notes that people vote for municipalities in local elections and then stage service delivery protests, which shows that they “can’t be anti towards the politicians they have elected. I have great doubts we’ll ever have a situation like that [of the Arab Spring] arising in South Africa.”

Nevertheless, protests continue and seem to be getting worse. By some accounts, the protests in the first three months of this year were the most South Africa has seen in any three-month period since 1994. Moreover, the protests seem to be more violent than in the past.

Last year was filled with protests too. “Last year’s protests, most of which occurred in July and August, led to the deaths of four people, some 94 injuries (mostly of protestors), 750 arrests, and damage to municipal buildings and police vehicles,” South African Institute for Race Relations (SAIRR) researcher Nthamaga Kgafela said earlier this year.
“Several [protests] were fuelled by the fact that councils did not respond to memorandums. Corruption and mismanagement of funds were also cited as reasons for protests in numerous areas. Another prominent reason was the lack of jobs.”

According to Kinnes, 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.”

Peddle concurs, saying that, “the broad policy of a government, particularly in South Africa with regards to civil marches, is critical. That strategy, if you like, is designed in order to allow for democratic protest to take place…the normal democratic citizens’ right to protest against something which affects him directly cannot be gainsaid by the government. If a number of individuals band together to demonstrate something from abortion to pay they have the constitutional right to do so. The policy that the government and police must follow is to regulate the process of demonstrating and therefore one must make a distinction between violent and peaceful demonstrations.”

The right strategy needs to be put in place to prevent protests, but there will always be criminal elements that need to be dealt with and protests that get out of hand. For this reason the ministry of police’s new policy 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.

Peddle is the driving force behind the organisation of defenceWeb’s Public Order Policing conference that will take place next month. Peddle assisted defenceWeb with its highly successful Border Control 2011 Conference, in March. During part of his long military career, he was a subject expert on POP, and after his retirement from the South African Army, he wrote a POP doctrine for the Nigerian police.

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.