The right to protest is a critical form of public participation and political expression and a crucial mechanism through which dissatisfied groups can voice their grievances. Section 17 of the Constitution grants legal protection to a wide range of different protest actions in stating that “everyone has the right, peacefully and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket and to present petitions”.
SERI’s work in “expanding political space” seeks to promote and expand the spaces within which communities can peacefully assemble, demonstrate, articulate and campaign for the advancement of their socio-economic rights. In the last two months, SERI has been engaged in a number of workshops and media engagements that aim to raise the public’s awareness of the right to protest and the role that it plays in a democratic South Africa.
On 18 and 19 March 2019, SERI, together with the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), the African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum (APCOF), the Omega Research Foundation (UK) and the Right2Protest hosted a workshop for civil society and community-based organisations from around the country on the role of civil society in holding the police accountable for human rights violations. The workshop was attended by approximately 50 participants including researchers, activists and individuals working in the contexts of policing, law, human rights, forensic medicine, social research and policy, weapons control and accountability systems. A workshop report detailing the outcomes of the workshop is available here.
On 22 March 2019, SERI’s Mary Rayner and Thato Masiangoako represented SERI at a workshop hosted by the Security at the Margins (SeaM) project at the University of the Witwatersrand. The workshop explored how organisations use data in their pursuit of police accountability with a focus on groups typically marginalised, discriminated against and/or criminalised, including sex and other informal sector workers, drug users, LBGTQ+ people, and protestors.
On 16 April 2019, SERI’s Edward Molopi and Mary Rayner gave a lecture at the University of the Witwatersrand’s School of Governance which shared perspectives on police oversight from civil society organisations and focused particularly on the role of civil society in holding the police accountable for policing of protests. The lecture was part of a course entitled “Actors in External Oversight” convened by Sean Tait and Chumile Sali from the African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum (APCOF).
In March 2019, SERI in partnership with the Nelson Mandela Foundation Centre of Memory launched a protest exhibition entitled “Insurgent Citizens: Reflections on Protest in Democratic South Africa.”
The exhibition creates a visual narrative which offers the public an opportunity to reflect on protests and the state’s response to protests. It further challenges and dispels some often deeply-held assumptions and longstanding myths about protests in South Africa and offers the public an opportunity to reflect on protests and the state response to protests through the law and practice.
On Sunday, 31 March, the City Press published an op-ed by SERI researcher, Thato Masiangoako, which challenged some of the common misconceptions around protest activity in South Africa and unpacked some of the reasons behind skewed public perceptions of protest. The op-ed also considers the important role that protest has played in our 25-year democracy and draws attention to the disproportionate amount of force that protests are usually met with.
In March, SERI’s Alana Potter and Edward Molopi were featured as guests on the Azania Mosaka show Talk Radio 702and Iman Rappetti show on Power FMrespectively. Potter and Molopi reflected on the recent protest exhibition at the Nelson Mandela Foundation. On 8 April 2019, SERI researcher, Thato Masiangoako, discussed the question of violent protests on the Talking Point show with Bongani Gwala on SAFM.
Other relevant media
On Thursday, 2 May 2019, SERI and the Slovo Park Community Development Forum (SPCDF) participated in an international conference about land tenure, displacement and recovery, hosted by Caño Martín Peña in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Lerato Marole presented on a community leaders panel about the SPCDF’s history, challenges and their successful use of the courts and existing housing policy to engage the South African government and ensure the upgrade of Slovo Park informal settlement. On a different panel, Tiffany Ebrahim presented on the importance of civil society organisations aligning their missions to support the strategic agendas of community based organisations and social movements that advocate for the implementation of pro-poor policy and community participation in government decision-making processes.
Marole and Ebrahim were joined on their panels by a wide range of activists and community leaders from Brazil, Mexico, Barbuda, Argentina and Puerto Rico. Organiser and host, Caño Martín Peña is the winner of the World Habitat Award in 2015 for developing a community land trust in an informal settlement that secures tenure and ensures the provision of services for more than 5000 homes previously neglected by the Puerto Rican and United States government. The community land trust has been lauded as the first of its kind in an informal settlement context, and has played a central role in ensuring resident access to government support services post-Hurricane Maria in 2017.
On 1 May 2019, Workers Day, SERI researcher Kelebogile Khunou appeared on ENCA’s Morning News Today, alongside Izwi Domestic Workers Alliance’s Maggie Mthombeni. Kelebogile spoke about the undervalued status of domestic work by the public and shared that the reasons behind such a perception stems from traditionally held views about domestic work as work women naturally do without compensation, and the fact that the home is not traditionally seen as a workplace. Maggie spoke about the unfair treatment of domestic workers and the lack of employer compliance with respect to contracts, annual increases, pay slips and UIF registrations. It was highlighted that one of the major challenges of achieving the realisation of employment rights for domestic workers is the lack of knowledge of legal obligations by employers.
Watch the segment here.
Download SERI's Domestic Workers' Rights Guide here.
On 18 and 19 March 2019, SERI, together with the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), the African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum (APCOF), the Omega Research Foundation (UK) and the Right2Protest hosted a workshop for civil society and community-based organisations from around the country on the role of civil society in holding the police accountable for human rights violations.
A workshop report detailing the outcomes of the workshop is now available.
The two-day workshop included three expert panels with question and answer sessions and a fourth training session on the identification of typical weapons used by law enforcement agencies and on patterns of injuries from the misuse of such weapons. These sessions were followed by break-away group discussions on each afternoon.
The report has been developed as a resource for civil society and community-based organisations in their efforts to hold officials accountable for the policing of protests. It contains a number of resources including all documents and tools referenced in the report and additional background materials and tools.
On 24 April 2019, SERI researcher, Kelebogile Khunou, participated in the launch of the South African Cities Network's People’s Guide to their State of the City Finances report. Kelebogile presented on a panel about how urban finances impact the communities with which SERI works. The People’s Guide is a tool aimed at sharing information on how the City of Johannesburg spends money on services and approaches undoing the legacy of apartheid spatial planning.
Kelebogile was joined on the panel by Frederick Kusambiza-Kiingi from Planact and Mthandazo Ndlovu from Oxfam South Africa. The panel was chaired by Danga Mughogho from the South African Cities Network. In her presentation, Kelebogile discussed the effects of a lack of access to basic services on the ability of residents and small business owners in informal settlements to grow their businesses and make a sustainable living. She also discussed the impact of the City of Johannesburg’s 2017 decision to withdraw the provision of free basic water on poor people. She argued that the City’s adoption of indigent registers is a regressive step in the realisation of sufficient access to water and that registers underrepresent the number of indigent people in the city and therefore the number of people who cannot afford to pay for water.