We condemn the “war on protest” issued by KZN MEC for Community Safety Mxolisi Kaunda on Tuesday, 24 July 2018.
The MEC has further suggested that the provincial government will not be visiting communities that are initiating protest action to express their grievances.
The remarks by the MEC are disheartening and they undermine the constitutional right to protest, in a country where there is growing dissent and lack of accountability, protest action is one of the very few ways in which marginalised communities can hold the government accountable.
Too often, protest action is the last resort and communities have often exhausted all lines of communication available to them, to no avail. Too often, reports about violence in protest ignore that these are the result of the authorities closing down any other space for communities to be heard; in fact, in many cases violent and repressive conduct by the police are a driver for conflict in protest situations.
In a context where the system has failed and often criminalised protesters, the MEC’s ‘war on protest’ fails to address the real issue which is that community members have no access to their councillors or decent services. The MEC fails to understand that many communities face intimidation when trying to organise marches, and often enough marches are unlawfully banned by the authorities. These remarks undermine the democratic values South Africa was built on: government officials are servants of the people, they should be available to these same people should mechanisms fail within councillors’ offices.
If the MEC wants to reduce the number of protests that happen outside of the Gatherings Act, make it easier for communities to protest! It is often officials themselves who go outside of the Gatherings Act to ban protests for made-up reasons — this practice needs to end.
At the same time the Gatherings Act itself has clauses which are unconstitutional – this outdated law needs to be replaced because it infringes on protesters’ rights!
If the MEC wants to declare war on something, declare war on police brutality! Declare war on unconstitutional anti-protest laws! Declare war on councillors and local government who shut communities out of the processes that affect their lives! This “war on protest” will only lead to more protests, and more conflict.
The Right2Protest Project and R2K KZN call upon the MEC to fulfil his mandate and to engage with those taking part in protest action. Protesters have the right to have their voices heard. Denying them that right is an atrocity.
We invite communities to use the Right2Protest Hotline (0800 212 111) which offers free legal advice for protesters who are having their rights undermined. The number is operational during business hours. Follow the Right2Protest Project on Facebook and Twitter.