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 they are usually met with.
Masiangoako argues that “we need to shift our perceptions of protest and begin to understand it in the context of profound inequalities and extreme levels of poverty. Without this, we run the risk of dismissing the ways in which government is failing the poor and marginalised.”
Read the full op-ed here.
From the 21st– 24thof March 2019, SERI participated in the second annual Human Rights Festival hosted by Constitutional Hill. The event aimed to celebrate the freedoms available to individuals and groups under our constitutional democracy. The festival also emphasised the diverse array of hurdles which still prevent communities from enjoying the sanctity of these rights on a daily basis.
As part of SERI’s participation in the festival our researchers, Tiffany Ebrahim and Thato Masiangoako contributed a short reflection on South Africa’s socio-economic progress since 1994 on Constitution Hill’s blog. Ebrahim and Masiangoako argue that while South Africa’s constitutional democracy has made considerable gains in 25 years, the nature of poverty and inequality has become increasingly intersectional. This means that the nature of disadvantage should consider race, gender, age, physical disability and physical location as factors that further exclude people from the realisation of human rights such as housing and other basic services. In informal settlements, where around 3.6-million people live, secure tenure and access to dignified services remain significant challenges. Despite South Africa’s progressive legal and policy framework, government efforts and resources continue to impose mass evictions, displacement and relocations of residents. Poor policy implementation, under-spent budgets and a lack of political will have severely frustrated efforts to secure socio-economic rights in South Africa. The reality is a lot worse for society’s most vulnerable groups, particularly in housing and basic services for women living with disabilities.
Read SERI’s blog post for the festival here.
On Wednesday, 20 March 2019, SERI’s Alana Potter shared a thought piece on ‘container-based sanitation and urban inequality’ in a seminar hosted by Cranfield University’s Water Science Institute in London. Her input asked whether container-based sanitation ameliorates tenure challenges as claimed by its proponents, or could in fact entrench tenure-related inequalities.
Container-based sanitation (CBS) solutions are gaining popularity because they provide a household (rather than shared), off grid, sanitation option with the potential to facilitate circular economies and reduce public health risks compared to unsealed pit latrines. CBS’s are also seen as a sanitation solution for ‘transient populations’ such as informal settlements. Alana’s input questioned the idea that informal settlements are intrinsically transient. Sixty percent of informal settlements in Cape Town and Gauteng have been in place for 5-10 years. Transience is arguably more likely the result of forced evictions and urban displacement, evident in most countries where the technology has been piloted. She noted that the flexibility this technical option offers governments could contribute to tenure insecurity, which impacts negatively on the livelihoods of the urban poor.
Referencing SERI’s informal settlement action research findings and media articles she highlighted the dignity and tenure security related concerns of users of portable flush toilets (PFTs) in informal settlements in Cape Town. “At the very least, CBS may enable urban planners and policy makers to avoid asking the hard questions about the tenure security of informal settlement residents”. She cautioned technology developers to be aware that, despite their many advantages, temporary or mobile sanitation options have the potential to serve a purpose which is evident in most countries; that of displacement of poor people from urban economic centers.
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.