On 22 March, 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 purpose of the workshop was to explore 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. Inputs were also made by the African Centre for Migration and Society; the Foundation for Human Rights; Xenowatch; Urban Futures Centre, and Abahlali baseMjondolo.
Dr Mary Rayner presented some of the main findings from a report titled, A Double Harm: Police Misuse of Force and Barriers to Necessary Health Care Services, which documents the disproportionate and illegal use of force by the police during student protests. Dr Rayner’s presentation highlighted various ways in which the police acted unlawfully during the 2015/2016 #feesmustfall student protests and how efforts to seek accountability have so far yielded no results. Key findings in the report included that:
Recurring themes emerged during the workshop, including the ways in which communities perceive and hold the police accountable, and the impact of criminalisation of certain acts and practices in dealing with vulnerable groups. While decriminalisation is not a panacea, criminalising and penalising further victimises and marginalises people who could be dealt with in more just and productive ways.
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.
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 first panel, through the presentations of South African Human Rights Commissioner Chris Nissen, Adv Kathleen Hardy and Zamantungwa Khumalo (SERI), highlighted the confluence of South African, Africa regional and international human rights law in emphasising the obligations of States to uphold the right to peaceful assembly and ensure that any police use of force should occur only in compliance with the principles of legality, proportionality and necessity.
The second panel, through the presentations of Prof Kate Alexander (University of Johannesburg), Gary White (Independent Expert on policing ‘best practice’ in the context of assemblies) and Adele Kirsten (Director, Gun Free South Africa) focused attention on the frequency and characteristics of protests in South Africa over the past decade; on critical principles in the policing of assemblies to ensure protection of the right to assembly and avoiding the use of force unless justifiable under law; and on weapons permissible under SAPS regulations, noting the potential risks of harm from their misuse in crowd management.
The third panel, through the expert inputs from David Bruce (Independent Researcher on Policing and Criminal Justice issues), Gary White, Dr Andrew Faull (Senior Researcher ISS), and Atty Wayne Ncube (LHR), described between them a range of challenges: the risks arising from the marginalisation or misdirection of public order policing resources; the critical importance of effective internal accountability systems within the police; data-based analysis of the marked deterioration in the internal SAPS disciplinary processes and outcomes; and the prolonged processes and sometimes risks to the safety of those seeking redress through civil litigation for damages.
The final panel involved training by two expert speakers, Neil Corney (OMEGA researcher) and Dr Steve Naidoo (a forensic medical expert on injury identifications). The first speaker identified typical weapons manufactured and traded for “law enforcement” purposes globally, noting some as completely unsuitable due to potential harm, and indicating how activists could gather information and identify them accurately and report to monitoring organisations. The Dr Naidoo and Dr Rayner both drew from some of the research documented in SERI’s Double Harmreport. Dr Naidoo provided information from international medical sources and from local case investigations from the student and other protests, showing evidence of injuries, some fatal, caused by the indiscriminate or other misuse of weapons permitted for use by SAPS. Dr Mary Rayner spoke briefly on the application of international human rights law to these student cases and from a range of evidence confirming the unlawful use of force; and journalist Sumeya Gasa closed the session with her experience of seeking information through the PAIA process on weapons used by SAPS and her experience of monitoring, reporting and filming the police response to the Westbury Protests in 2018.
Participants then shared experiences and expertise, exchanged strategies, and developed recommendations for actions to be taken going forward in working groups. Some of the key advocacy points to emerge from the working group sessions included among other actions:
Participants received a package of background and resource materials and tools on flash disks. A summary report will be compiled and published shortly.
On Saturday 23 March 2019, SERI will be participating in the second annual Human Rights Festival at Constitution Hill. The #StandUp4HumanRights festival has partnered with leading human rights organisations to highlight the work of social justice organisations.
At 12pm, SERI will be screening The Struggle to be Ordinary, a short documentary on sanitation for women with disabilities in informal settlements at the Women’s Jail (Conference Room 2); the screening will be followed by a short discussion. At 2pm, SERI will be participating in the Social Forum Activism Village at Constitution Hill Square, discussing the intersection of gender, disability and human rights challenges in accessing basic services in South Africa. The purpose of the Social Forum is to gather and engage activists, civil society, government officials and general members of the public on human rights issues.
Constitution Hill’s Human Rights Festival is open and free to the public. The festival programme features an exciting range of interactive workshops, panel discussions, a film festival, poetry readings, art exhibitions, a music concert and a local food and goods market. In addition, there is a dedicated children’s zone that includes storytelling, educational programmes, children’s planetarium art and a playground.
We hope to see you there!
On Tuesday, 19 March 2019, SERI in partnership with the Nelson Mandela Foundation launched a protest exhibition entitled “Insurgent Citizens: Reflections on Protest in Democratic South Africa” at the Foundation’s Centre of Memory in Houghton.
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.
The right to protest, protected by Section 17 of the Constitution, is essential to agency and to political expression, and a mechanism through which dissatisfied communities can voice their grievances.
The launch was accompanied by inputs from Zamantungwa Khumalo (SERI), Allan Ngari (Institute for Security Studies), Simamkele Dlakavu (Activist and Academic) with the key note address from Former Public Protector, Advocate Thuli Madonsela.
SERI’s Zamantungwa Khumalo addressed the audience on a talk entitled “The state vs the woman” which drew on SERI's case involving 16 women in the small town of Colenso, KwaZulu Natal who were arrested and detained while trying engage their local municipality on community concerns.
The exhibition is open for public viewing at the Centre of Memory on weekdays between 08:30 and 16:30.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation in association with SERI invite you to the launch of our exhibition entitled “Insurgent Citizens: Reflections on protest In democratic South Africa”
The exhibition aims to create a visual narrative which will offer 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.
Venue: Nelson Mandela Foundation, 107 Central Street, Houghton
Date and Time: Tuesday 19 March 2019, 18h00