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[OP-ED] SERI's Yongeza Mbimbi writes about the importance of protest for communities that are often unheard (13 October 2023).

YMbimbi Daily MaverickOn 12 October 2023, the Daily Maverick published an op-ed by SERI's Yongeza Mbimbi entitled, 'Protests are a powerful tool of democratic expression and a legitimate form of political participation'.

The op-ed discusses the importance of protest especially for marginalised groups and communities that often go unheard. In it, Yongeza Mbimbi discusses the protest by Slovo Park's informal settlement residents that resulted in a community meeting with Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi but also resulted in the killing of 16-year-old Karabo Chaka, allegedly by the police. The community turned to protest as a last resort after many years of engaging the City of Johannesburg and years of many broken promises by public officials from all levels of government. He writes:

"to understand more fully the nature of protests, we need to ask why communities protest in the first place, and why other means of engagement have been ineffective. It is also necessary to question why protests are often met with a violent state response.

In the case of Slovo Park, the protest was an expression of a community’s deep-seated frustration with the lack of basic services and stagnant development after decades of false promises and fruitless engagement."

The op-ed addresses some of the misconceptions about protest and reflects of their contribution to bringing about social change. These misconceptions and the history of protest in South Africa are the subject of a new SERI publication, 'Listen to Us! Reflections on Protest in Democratic South Africa' which was launched on 26 September 2023.

Listen to Us publication coverThe publication is adapted from a protest exhibition entitled “Insurgent Citizens: Reflections on Protest in Democratic South Africa”  which provided a compelling visual narrative that both examined the history and practice of protest, as well as challenged popular assumptions and myths associated with it. The exhibition was put together by the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI) and the Nelson Mandela Foundation in March 2019. 

  • Read the full op-ed here.
  • Download the publication here.


[OP-ED] SERI's Nkosinathi Sithole reflects on the fire at 80 Albert Street (11 September 2023).

SundayTimes Nkosinathi SitholeOn Sunday, 10 September 2023, the Sunday Times published an op-ed by SERI's Nkosinathi Sithole entitled, 'Fire proves the apartheid ethos of the Central Pass Office hasn't died'. In the piece, Sithole reflects on the devastating fire that took place at the building at 80 Albert Street on 31 August which claimed the lives of 77 people.

Sithole also tracks the history of the building, which under apartheid, it housed the Department of Non-European Affairs' Central Pass Office. He writes: "the office from which the "dompas", which controlled the movement of black people in South Africa, was issued and that was responsible for authorising the expulsion of "unworthy black people" from Johannesburg, denying them a place in the inner city."

The building later served as a shelter, named Usindiso Women's Shelter and was leased by the NGO Usindiso Industries from 2001. However, the building fell into disrepair like many other shelters and transitional housing due to neglect by the City.

In the op-ed, Sithole argues that: "The city's response and attitude towards the surviving residents of Usindiso Women's Shelter and those of other similar occupied buildings espouses the same apartheid systematic technique to rid the inner city of poor people who cannot afford the standard of a gentrified city.

  • Access the full op-ed here


[PUBLICATION] SERI launches a new publication reflecting on protest in South Africa (26 September 2023).

Listen to Us publication coverOn 26 September 2023, SERI launches a new publication entitled, 'Listen to Us! Reflections on Protest in Democratic South Africa'. The publication is adapted from a protest exhibition entitled “Insurgent Citizens: Reflections on Protest in Democratic South Africa” put together by the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI) and the Nelson Mandela Foundation in March 2019. The exhibition provided a compelling visual narrative that both examined the history and practice of protest, as well as challenged popular assumptions and myths associated with it.

This publication serves as an attempt to convert the exhibition into a more permanent and easily shareable format. The exhibition's contents have been updated to include more recent protest movements and reflect on the 10th anniversary of the Marikana massacre. Our hope is that the images contained herein serve as a source of reflection and inspiration. The struggle for justice, equality and dignity is far from over, and there is no doubt that people in South Africa and elsewhere will continue to take to the streets to fight for what they deserve.

  • Download the publication here.




[JOINT STATEMENT] The Johannesburg Inner City crisis: room for the poor? (20 September 2023).

Joint Statement on innercity fire

Issued by: Inner City Resource Centre (ICRC), Inner City Federation (ICF), 1to1 Agency of Engagement, Planact and SERI.

No-one should have to live in derelict buildings which have been abandoned by their owners. The risks can be fatal, as the fire at 80 Albert Street showed. People live there because formal accommodation options are few and far between. They do so because of what access to a central location offers: job searching; informal, formal and irregular employment; savings on transportation costs from the peripheries of the City. They do so because they cannot afford accommodation developed by the private sector. They do so because the state subsidised social housing programme does not accommodate many people’s low levels of affordability. They do so because, even if they could afford formal accommodation options in the inner city, there are little to no vacancies.

Unfortunately, once an immediate crisis is over, it is often the case that the responsible authorities tend to recede and with them go any hopes of a sustainable solution to the systemic problems which underpin what is happening in Johannesburg’s inner city. This time it must be different.

What happened at Albert Street is a shocking symptom of the multi-faceted crisis in inner city Johannesburg. Unfortunately this fire is not the first but could well be a harbinger of the worst. A housing crisis first and foremost, political and commercial interests are also at play.

Regarding the housing aspect of the crisis, government already has the legal and policy mechanisms at its disposal. It need not develop new ones. However, the people living in abandoned buildings must be central to any interventions.

The primary tool at the disposal of the state is the Emergency Housing Programme, famously the outcome of the historic Grootboom judgment. The programme exists to accommodate victims of disasters like the people in Albert Street, to address living conditions that pose threats to the health of residents and for the provision of temporary accommodation for those who would be rendered homeless by an eviction. The programme is clear that victims of disasters and evictions together with those living in dangerous living conditions are eligible for the grant.

Were the City of Johannesburg to programmatically attend to the perilous conditions in the many derelict buildings, something which it should urgently do, it would need to take the rights of those who occupy them into account. Not doing so would result in thousands of homeless people sleeping rough on the streets. Unlawful evictions and warrantless raids have no place in a socially just, constitutionally compliant, developmental and humane state response.

We propose a three-pronged approach: Firstly, the immediate provision of services to all residents currently living in abandoned buildings, in order to address safety, health and basic needs on an interim basis. Secondly, the repair or upgrading of buildings to ensure that they do not pose a threat to the health, safety and lives of residents. Thirdly, if the threats cannot be addressed through in situ repair and incremental upgrading, then consensual or court-ordered resettlement or relocation to alternative accommodation should proceed.

The Emergency Housing Programme can fund all three interventions.

In order to support the access to services and the upgrading of the buildings, we are calling on voluntary professional services providers: engineers, planners, architects and other design professionals. If you are able to play a part, please provide us with your contact details using this link.

  • Download the joint statement here.
  • Download ICF and ICRC declaration on the Johannesburg inner city fire here.

[SUBMISSION] SERI makes a submission on the national minimum wage annual review (20 September 2023).

SERI NMW submissionOn Friday, 8 September 2023, SERI made a submission to the National Minimum Wage Commission concerning possible adjustments to the national minimum wage for 2024. The commission will consider representations made to it before it publishes its annual report and recommendations on the annual review of the national minimum wage later in the year.

SERI’s submission focusses on discussing the impact of food insecurity and the implications for the minimum wage.

The impact of rising inflation has been felt by all groups in South Africa. In March 2023, South Africa’s food inflation reached a 14-year high at 14,4%.  The most notable food groups affected include vegetables for which prices have increased by 20,5%, grain products like maize, bread and cereals (20,3%), plant-based oils and fats (16%), milk and eggs (13,6%) and meat (10,6%). However, data from StatsSA shows that the poorest households suffered the highest inflation rate: from April 2022 to April 2023 the cost of living for the poorest households rose from around 6% to 11,3%, in comparison to an increase from around 5,5% to 7,8% for wealthier households. This is due to the sharp increases in food prices which impacted on poorer households the most because they spend approximately half of their annual budgets on food and non-alcoholic beverages, whereas for wealthier households, that proportion is 11%.

SERI submits that food insecurity is a critical lens through which the national minimum wage must be viewed. At the present quantum, the national minimum wage is insufficient to address the immediate needs of food security for the precarious worker. Sufficient quality and quantity of food needed to sustain a low-income household remains out of reach for those who earn the minimum wage. This forces precarious workers to employ coping strategies to stave of hunger, often compromising their physical health in the process.

Consequently, SERI’s key recommendation in this submission is that the adjustment to the minimum wage should take into consideration rising food prices as even those in low-income employment, such as domestic workers and farm workers, are struggling to meet their basic needs.

  • Download the full submission here