Over the past two weeks, young people across Nigeria have taken to the streets under the banner of the #EndSARS movement calling for the immediate abolition of the federal government’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) which has operated since 1992. The Squad has been accused of a wide range of excesses including extortion, harassment and humiliation, arbitrary arrest, rape, torture and extrajudicial killings. Many people including youth and members of the LGBTQ+ community, reported being targeted based on their appearance. The demonstrations call for an end to police brutality, demand police accountability, and call for an end to widespread corruption and poor leadership.
On the evening of 20 October 2020 at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos, Nigeria’s security forces reported to be members of the military opened fire on peaceful demonstrators who were seated, singing the Nigerian national anthem. This followed the announcement of a state-wide 24-hour curfew effective from 16:00 WAT on 20 October. According to the Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the curfew was instituted because the #EndSARS movement had been infiltrated by “criminals”.
In the early stages of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet warned against the misuse of emergency powers, broadened under the COVID19 pandemic, “to quash dissent, control the population, and even perpetuate their time in power”.
There are reports of CCTV cameras being removed and streetlights being turned off shortly before the Lekki Toll Gate attack as well as medical emergency services being blocked from reaching those in need of emergency medical assistance. There are also disturbing reports of alleged members of the military carrying away bodies of those presumed to be deceased. Although the Lagos State government has only reported up to 25 people having been injured, according to Amnesty International, there are at least 38 deaths and many more injuries. On 21 October, following the Lekki Toll Gate Massacre, members of the Nigerian Army and the Nigerian Police are reported to have continued to attack protestors.
The protestors of the #EndSARS movement have had their rights to life, dignity, freedom of expression, and peaceful assembly, enshrined in regional and international law, violated. The Nigerian government, as a signatory state to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, amongst others, has a legal obligation to uphold these rights.
In terms of the international and regional principles on the use force, the Nigerian government also has a duty to ensure that any police use of force should occur only in compliance with the principles of legality, proportionality and necessity. The excessive use of force evident at the Lekki Toll Gate is a clear breach of this duty.
We extend deep condolences to the families, friends and comrades who have been killed or injured in this callous attack. We stand with all victims of police brutality in Nigeria and around the world and support the demands for justice and accountability. We are encouraged and moved by the courage, leadership and determination shown by the people of Nigeria, especially during this dark period.
Police brutality and the callous use of force is something many poor and marginalised communities in Nigeria, South Africa and other parts of the world know all too well. Without accountability and justice, police and security abuses continue with impunity. We echo the demands from the people of Nigeria for an end to police brutality, for full, thorough and transparent investigations into the state-sanctioned attacks against the protestors at Lekki Toll Gate as well as all other violations by the SARS.
We acknowledge that the Nigerian government has disbanded SARS, however, are concerned by its replacement with a Special Works and Tactics (SWAT) Team. Unless the SWAT Team is committed to policing that upholds human rights and adheres to the laws and principles of necessity, proportionality and accountability related to the use of force, existing patterns of abuse will persist. Systematic change, which utterly inverts the culture of impunity, is required.
We urge President Cyril Ramphosa, the current Chairperson of the African Union, to support the call of the #EndSARS movement to end police brutality and impunity, and to stand in solidarity with the people of Nigeria. We also call on the African Union and other members of the African Union to support this call.
Read the full statement here.
Today SERI is launching another one of the case studies in the Claiming Water Rights in South Africa research series, “Farm dwellers fight for access to water in uMgungundlovu district municipality”. The research project was launched in a Water Rights Webinar Series held in partnership with the Mail & Guardian. The research forms part of the global #ClaimYourWaterRights campaign initiated by End Water Poverty.
The uMgungundlovu case study is about government providing water services on privately-owned land – a perspective from farms. The uMgungundlovu District Municipality is located in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. It comprises several local municipalities including uMsunduzi and uMshwathi, with the provincial capital Pietermaritzburg falling in uMsunduzi. Much of the region is agricultural and home to many labour tenants and farm dwellers who are particularly vulnerable groups, owing to the long history of land dispossession and labour tenancy in the area.
According to The Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) farms provide homes for approximately 3 million people in South Africa. Many people live on farms but do not work on farms, others work on farms but do not live on those farms, and others both live and work on farms. What distinguishes farm dwellers is that they have historic ties to the land- beyond any labour relations which may exist. Farm dwellers have lived on the land for generations. As one farm dweller put it- “We were here before the farm”.
After the 1913 Native’s Land Act, hundreds of thousands of black people were forcibly removed off farms. Those who were allowed to remain on the land, were allowed to do so in exchange for free labour. This category of people are referred to as labour tenants.
Due to this history of dispossession, farm dwellers remain one of the most vulnerable and isolated populations in South Africa. Farm dwellers have insecure tenure rights and are at risk of eviction. Some farm dwellers also report deplorable living conditions, including insufficient access to adequate water supply, sanitation facilities and refuse collection services.
Many farm dwellers living in uMgungundlovu have reported deplorable living conditions, including insufficient access to adequate water supply, sanitation facilities and refuse collection services. The Association For Rural Advancement (AFRA) has been working with farm dwellers in the area for many years. Their biggest struggle has been that farm owners claim that the provision of water is a municipal responsibility. Municipalities in turn argue that, even if they wanted to, they have no jurisdiction to provide services on privately-owned land. Farm dwellers have thus been stuck between a rock and a hard place. After a long journey of engaging with farm owners and several municipalities, AFRA and farm dwellers in the area, assisted by the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), approached the Pietermaritzburg High Court to claim their rights to water, sanitation and other essential services in the Mshengu case.
This case underlines the universal services obligation of municipalities, including on farms. The judgment brought clarity to the question of who bears what obligations in the provision of water services on privately-owned land, fundamentally changing the landscape of water services provision on farms in South Africa.
On 6 October 2020, SERI launched the synthesis report entitled “Claiming water rights in South Africa” as well as the case study of the Marikana informal settlement entitled “Residents of Marikana informal settlement use expropriation as a tool” which is the second of four case studies.
The publications are:
On Tuesday 20 October 2020, the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI) will launch its first case study, Farm dwellers fight for access to water in Umgungundlovu District Municipality, which is one of four case studies in SERI’s “Claiming Water Rights in South Africa” research project. The research examines how water rights are being claimed in South Africa and draws lessons from the work of communities and civil society organisations in a diverse range of circumstances. The research series consists of four case study reports and a synthesis report.
SERI is partnering with the Mail & Guardian to launch these publications through the Water Rights Webinar Series. The first webinar, “Expropriation as a tool: the Marikana experience”, took place on 6 October 2020.
This webinar, “Water services on farms: the role of the municipality”, is the second in the webinar series. The case study explores the question of who is legally obliged to provide water services to farm dwellers by looking at the Mshengu case.
For years, farm owners have claimed that the provision of water is a municipal responsibility. Municipalities in turn argued that, even if they wanted to, they have no jurisdiction to provide services on privately-owned land. Farm dwellers have thus been stuck between a rock and a hard place. After a lengthy process engaging with farm owners and several municipalities, Association For Rural Advancement (AFRA) and farm dwellers in the area, assisted by the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), approached the Pietermaritzburg High Court to claim their rights to water, sanitation and other essential services in the ground-breaking Mshengu case.
The webinar will:
Date: Tuesday, 20 October 2020; 14h00-15h30 via Zoom.
Register for the Zoom webinar here by 19 October 2020.
This webinar will be followed by:
This case explores provincial intervention, which is framed as a key remedy to address municipal failure, from a legal and practical perspective and draws lessons from the Makana experience.
This case explores an example of residents providing water (and electricity) services themselves after municipal systems fail. The webinar aims to interrogate the practice of self-supply within the international and local human rights framework, and in the experiences of providers and consumers. It will explore the risks and implications of self-supply.
Download the full press statement here.
The Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI) and the Mail & Guardian invite you to the
Water Rights Webinar Series
Water services on farms: the role of the municipality
The uMgungundlovu District Municipality is located in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Much of the region is agricultural and home to many labour tenants and farm dwellers who report deplorable living conditions, including poor access to water and sanitation services. Farm owners claim that the provision of water is a municipal responsibility. Municipalities in turn argue that, even if they wanted to, they have no jurisdiction to provide services on privately-owned land. After protracted engagements with farm owners and municipalities, the Association For Rural Advancement (AFRA) and farm dwellers in the area, assisted by the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), approached the Pietermaritzburg High Court to claim their rights to water, sanitation and other essential services in the Mshengu case.
When: Tuesday, 20 October 2020; 14h00-15h30 via Zoom
Who: Siyabonga Sithole (Association for Rural Advancement) • Mlungisi Mncwabe (Siyanqoba Rural Transformation Forum) • Simone Gray (Legal Resources Centre) • Sarah Smit (Mail & Guardian) • Facilitated by Kelebogile Khunou (SERI).
RSVP: Register for the Zoom webinar here by 19 October 2020.
On Tuesday, 6 October 2020, SERI launched the Claiming Water Rights in South Africa research series, documenting residents’ experiences in claiming water rights in South Africa. The research project was launched in a Water Rights Webinar Series held in partnership with the Mail and Guardian. The research forms part of the global #ClaimYourWaterRights campaign initiated by End Water Poverty.
The research examines how water rights are being claimed in South Africa, with a view to drawing lessons from the work of communities and civil society organisations in a diverse range of circumstances. This series analyses the legal and practical issues in water rights claiming. It consists of four case study reports and a synthesis report. The research was conducted in the first half of 2020 just as COVID-19 began to spread in South Africa. Access to water emerged early as integral to combatting the virus, as frequent handwashing is one of the key preventative measures. While the full extent of the impact of COVID-19 on water services in South Africa is still unfolding, the report offers some preliminary observations on this relationship.
Today, SERI launched the synthesis report and the first case study focusing on the Marikana informal settlement. This case study of the Marikana informal settlement is the second of four case studies. It illustrates how expropriation in terms of the Housing Act 107 of 1997 (the Housing Act) can be utilised as a tool to widen access to urban land for poor people and to provide them with services. The Marikana informal settlement in Cape Town is home to over 60 000 people. For years, the residents of Marikana have persistently and innovatively engaged in a diversity of strategies to improve their living conditions. These strategies have included community mobilisation, engagement with the authorities, protest, self-supply, and ultimately, precedent-setting litigation in the Fischer case which is the first case in South Africa to examine the possibilities of expropriation in terms of the Housing Act.
The publications are: