‘Expanding Political Space’ - which encompasses participation, protest and policing - grew out of SERI’s work representing communities and individuals engaged in struggles to protect socio-economic rights. Poor people often peacefully assemble and demonstrate in service delivery protests. They also criticise employers, universities, landlords and the state for unfair and often unlawful practices in the workplace, in delivering services and/or in response to abuses in the landlord-tenant relationship. SERI seeks to protect and expand the political spaces within which communities can peacefully assemble, demonstrate, articulate and campaign for the advancement of their socio-economic rights.
Public participation in local government decision-making around access to basic services is a core principle of the numerous policies and laws which provide for formal channels of participation. However, the systemic exclusion of communities from formal means of participation often means that engagement with the state happens outside of formal participatory channels through issue-based CBOs, social movements and community forums. These voices are often ignored, leading to frustration and increased ‘service delivery’ protests.
While freedom of assembly and demonstration is a legitimate form of democratic participation, local authorities and police officials often prevent individuals, social movements and CBOs from protesting. The use of force by the police has become a defining feature of the policing of public protests, whilst the arrests of activists on bogus charges and the abuse of the criminal justice system to silence dissent is commonplace. SERI respects the agency of people to express themselves in the manner in which they deem appropriate, whilst enjoying the protections guaranteed by the Constitution. SERI has responded to the growing criminalisation of protest by building our litigation capacity in bail applications and criminal law.
From September 2012, SERI has been instructed to represent the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), and 33 families of miners who were killed by the police on 16 August 2012, at the Marikana Commission of Inquiry. Read more on SERI's involvement here.