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.
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