According to statistics released by Community Safety and Liaison MEC Mxolisi Kaunda, in the past four months there have been more than two illegal protests every day in KZN, and more than 500 in the past financial year. Most of the protests had been violent and resulted in damage to property.
On Tuesday, Kaunda held a meeting with law enforcement agencies in Durban and it was announced that a provincial executive council subcommittee has been established to deal with the protests.
The committee, which is part of an integrated law enforcement plan, has been given three months to deal with the protests.
Kaunda will chair the subcommittee, which will also include MECs for Human Settlements and Public Works Ravi Pillay, Corporate Governance and Traditional Affairs Nomusa Dube-Ncube, and Education Mthandeni Dlungwana.
“When the executive council decided to appoint this committee, it took into cognisance which departments have issues in society, so you don’t find yourselves wanting if issues arise when we are intervening.”
Kaunda said the provincial government would go to protest-prone areas in a bid to resolve issues and to caution people to follow correct legal processes for protests.
“Section 17 of chapter 2 of the constitution provides that ‘Everyone has the right, peacefully and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket and to present petitions.’ The exercise of this right is regulated by the Gatherings Act of 1993. Any demonstration not complying with this act is therefore unlawful We want to therefore declare a war on these illegal protests This anarchy must now come to an end,” he said.
Deputy provincial police commissioner Major-General Bheki Langa said while they carried out many arrests during illegal protests, it was difficult to build a case as, generally, none of the protesters were willing to testify against each other. “That is why you often see police officers carrying video cameras to protests, so there is evidence of who did what.”
Kaunda said the illegal protests also resulted in unnecessary confrontations between the police and communities. “We wish to remind people that the police have a duty to protect every right in the constitution, including the right of those who are not part of the protests. The police are forced to divert their focus and attention, leave criminals roaming our streets, to focus on people who are protesting.”
Kaunda said there had been service delivery protests in eThekwini, including “disruptions and extortionist practices by business forums at construction sites, factories, at the Port of Durban, Engen and Sapref”.
He said there had also been protests in the Ilembe, uMkhanyakude, King Cetshwayo and Ugu districts.
“We are keeping a close eye on anti-foreigner sentiments emanating from competition for scarce resources, employment and business opportunities,” he added.
Murray Hunter, spokesperson for the Right2Know campaign, which also champions the right to protest, expressed concern about the Gatherings Act. “It is a law created before 1994 and very much a product of a climate in which the state had a different relationship with people, a time of great political violence between the state and the people and between different political parties. We believe it is not constitutional.”
Hunter believes the government should rather invest resources to address the causes of the unrest.
This was echoed by social justice activist Christine Nxumalo, who said while the destruction of property during protests was counterproductive, there was real frustration about the lack of service delivery. “To be denied constitutionally mandated services can have a deep impact on people, and when people are suffering they get desperate,” she said.