The issue of protest and police management of protest has come into sharp focus in recent weeks. On 9 March, SERI’s Nomzamo Zondo participated in a consultation with the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly & Association, Clément Nyaletsossi Voule. The next day, the South African Police Services (SAPS) responded to peaceful student protests with excessive use of force resulting in multiple injuries and one person killed. When police violently dispersed students on Wednesday 10 March by firing rubber bullets, they killed Mthokozisi Ntumba as he was leaving a clinic in Braamfontein.

The consultation was organised by the Global Network of Movement Lawyers (GNML) as part of an initiative to gather insights and best practices from lawyers who provide legal support to those engaged in mass protests and organising. It is envisaged that the consultation will contribute to a toolkit and report intended to educate lawyers on how best to protect the rights to assembly and association of those engaged in protest and organising.

GNML LOGOIn her inputs, Zondo discussed some of the major barriers to protest as experienced by SERI’s client groups which included unlawful and arbitrary prohibitions of protests, unlawful dispersals of peaceful protests, the use of excessive force when dispersing protests and the misuse of the criminal justice system as means of deterring protest action. Zondo argued that police tend to perceive protests as unlawful unless they have consented to them and that this perception is often shared by other actors in the criminal justice system who increasingly conflate the disruption caused by protests with actual violence. She argued that the criminalisation of protest is a key issue and that lawyers have an important role to play in supporting movements and communities in need of criminal representation and litigation for policy and law reform.


For more relevant material:

  • Read SERI’s press statement condemning SAPS’s use of force against peaceful student protestors here.
  • SERI media engagement on protests and police misuse of force:
    • What will it take for the police to stop killing our citizens?, Sumeya Gasa, Mail & Guardian (19 March 2021).
    • Police brutality won’t stop us, say students protesting over fees, Shonisani Tshikalange, Sunday Times (10 March 2021).
    • Nomzamo Zondo interviewed on eNCA about understanding the right to protest (11 March 2021). Watch here.
    • Wits student debt is R1bn: vice-chancellor, Mpumzi Zuzile, Sowetan (11 March 2021).
    • Nomzamo Zondo interviewed by Newzroom Afrika about the police’s unlawful use of force against peaceful student protests (11 March 2021). Watch here.
    • Thato Masiangoako interviewed on Metro FM to discuss the police’s excessive use of force and the use of less-lethal weapons (11 March 2021). Listen here.
    • Thato Masiangoako interviewed on Salaamedia about police brutality and the misuse of less-lethal weapons (12 March 2021). Listen here.
    • Thato Masiangoako interviewed on the Voice of the Cape to discuss police brutality at the student protests (15 March 2021). Listen here.
  • [OP-ED] Can our police be trusted with their weapons?, Mary Rayner, Thato Masiangoako, Neil Corney, Mail & Guardian (12 November 2020).
  • Download infographics on less-lethal weapons by the Anti-Repression Working Group of the C-19 People's Coalition here.