Violence, as seen in numerous South African protests, is now widely being used as a bargaining tool, forcing authorities to give in to demands of demonstrators, says Institute for Security Studies (ISS) researcher Godfrey Mulaudzi.
Commenting on the nature of the recent widespread countrywide protests – whether led by residents demanding service delivery in Mamelodi or by Alexandra taxi operators mounting pressure for the release of impounded, unroadworthy mini bus taxis – violence has been evident.
Mulaudzi said more effective policing by the South African Police Service (SAPS) and metro police is required to suppress violence.
He said protesters often found it “easy to use violence because more often than not there will be no prosecution or consequences”.
“The taxi industry, for example, has for a long time been using violence to get their way. This is because of lack of proper professional policing.
“Lack of crowd management and negotiating skills by SAPS is also brought into question in this regard,” said Mulaudzi.
There was also a “need for civil education on citizens’ constitutional rights to peaceful protest and on the effects of destroying public property”.
Added Mulaudzi: “As we have seen in many protests, violence does not always enjoy popular support from the affected communities who are protesting.
“Form and character of protesting often result in tensions among the protesters themselves. Criminal elements have also found protests as a lucrative business to enrich themselves through looting.
“The land debate currently tops the national agenda and is a burning issue in our country. Access to urban land for settlement has resulted in land grabbers occupying any piece of land they identify. And this is informed and fuelled by political pronouncements.
“Access to land has been highly politicised lately, playing into the hands of the poor people.
“Poor people are being mobilised in resistance of government land reform programmes. And this is, of course, to sway votes in the forthcoming general elections in the country.
“The debate of access to land has been hijacked by more criminal forms and has seen a lot of lawlessness and use of violence and force,” said Mulaudzi.
Government needed “more effective ways of communicating plans and intensifying implementation of its programmes”.