SERI condemns the indiscriminate violence and excessive force used by the South African Police Service (SAPS) in the ongoing protest in Slovo Park. On 31 July 2023, SERI learned that 16-year-old Karabo Chaka was killed after he was allegedly shot in the back of the head by the police in the Slovo Park informal settlement in the south of Johannesburg. This incident occurred during the community’s protest to draw attention to the lack of water and sanitation delivery in the settlement and a stalled informal settlement upgrading process. As part of the protest, residents blocked the N12 highway and in response, the police resorted to firing rubber bullets and tear gas into the informal settlement and pursuing fleeing protesters.
Karabo is yet another victim of violent policing by SAPS. While the specific details surrounding Karabo’s death remain unclear, we believe that it is further evidence of the police’s reliance on indiscriminate and deadly force, and a failure to facilitate protest through means such as communication, negotiation, and de-escalation.
While the context of protest is complex and dynamic, the police should be responding to protests with care for both protestors and surrounding communities and individuals who may not be a part of the protest. According to SAPS directives, the police are required to avoid the use of force “at all costs” and “must display the highest degree of tolerance”. If it is determined that the use of force is unavoidable, then the degree of force used must be proportional to the circumstances and threats present. This would require the police to act in a manner that is responsible with an awareness of their duty to protect life and prevent damage to property. Only a commander may instruct the use of any force and the use of rubber bullets in crowd management to disperse is only to be used in “extreme circumstances”.
The Slovo Park protest was a long-considered option borne out of community frustration with other avenues of engagement. The context is that in 2016, the High Court ordered the City of Johannesburg to commence the process prescribed in the Upgrading of Informal Settlements Programme (UISP) for the upgrading of the Slovo Park settlement. However, seven years since the Melani judgment, apart from the partial electrification of the settlement in 2018, access to basic services in Slovo Park is still lacking leading to the death of several minors.
Since the judgment, the community of Slovo Park has engaged with the City of Johannesburg through the Slovo Park Community Development Forum (SPCDF), which represents the community in the upgrading process via an upgrading task team with the relevant parties. In these engagements, they have also shared the deaths of at least two children who died after falling into pit latrines and have consistently brought to the City’s attention the lack of access to running water, sanitation, and other challenges facing the settlement.
We are disheartened by the circumstances that have driven the community of Slovo Park to take to the streets. For nearly thirty years, since its establishment in the early 1990s, Slovo Park has been on the receiving end of broken promises made by government for upgrading and development. The City of Johannesburg has failed them. The community’s decision to take to the streets in protest is a measure of last resort, having exhausted other avenues available to them.
We mourn the death Karabo Chaka and extend our deepest condolences to his family and to the community of Slovo Park. We stand behind Slovo Park and we are in solidarity with their cause. We call on the Independent Police Investigative Directorate to thoroughly investigate the circumstances of Karabo’s death and demand that those responsible for his death be held accountable.
- Thato Masiangoako, SERI researcher: thato[at]seri-sa.org.
- Khululiwe Bhengu, SERI senior attorney: khululiwe[at]seri-sa.org.
Download the press statement here.