Human Rights Commission concerned about violence during protests

Day two of the Nehawu strike at Helen Joseph Hospital saw the same intensity as day one. Picture: Timothy Bernard/ African News Agency (ANA)

Day two of the Nehawu strike at Helen Joseph Hospital saw the same intensity as day one. Picture: Timothy Bernard/ African News Agency (ANA)

Published Mar 8, 2023


Johannesburg - The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) says it is concerned about the use of violence during protest actions.

The commission said the Wits University student protest and Nehawu wage negotiation picketing were recent examples that were accompanied by violence.

“The commission strongly supports the right to access higher education as well as the right to a living wage. It supports the actions of students and workers alike to resort to peaceful protest in expressing their grievances, focusing attention on their situation. The importance of access to further education cannot be overestimated,” said the SAHRC.

The commission said it was disappointed and expressed grave concern that violence was increasingly being regarded as the preferred method of getting the message across during protests, instead of parties expressing their dissatisfaction and differences in a peaceful manner.

“The commission wishes to remind everyone that Section 17 of the Constitution provides that everyone has the right, peacefully and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket and to present petitions. For it to be lawful, the exercise of such rights must take place peacefully and with due regard for the rights of others,” according to an SAHRC statement.

Frustrated Wits students on Thursday protested against (the lack of) financial support and accommodation, blocking streets around Braamfontein. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA).

The commission noted that the country was currently grappling with multiple economic challenges, which included the rising cost of living and the high levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality.

“These challenges impact severely not only the workers, but their ability to service their debts, which may include paying the tertiary tuition fees for their children.

“The commission implores those who are protesting to also bear their responsibilities, not just rights, in mind. Among others, they are urged to respect the rights of others, more especially in essential services where blocking hospital operations, as reported in the media, can have devastating consequences on patients who need medical assistance.”

They pointed out that users of healthcare facilities were also feeling the brunt of the high cost of living and should not be further disadvantaged by being denied access to the healthcare they need.

The commission requested that Nehawu be considerate of the wasted travel and catering costs for those who travelled from far, but fail to access healthcare services as a result of disruptions at various healthcare facilities across the country.

“The commission is calling for government to engage students and Nehawu in their respective protest actions, to find reasonable solutions, within a reasonable time, for the benefit of all parties involved.”

The Star