CIVICUS

MonitorTracking civic space

South Africa

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Last updated on 17.09.2021 at 11:16

The Civic Space Developments

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Highest number of protests recorded, whistle blower and trade unionist killed

Highest number of protests recorded, whistle blower and trade unionist killed

increasing waves of protest action recorded as country reaches all time high; residents of Middleburg take to the streets to denounce new tariff hikes; protesters gather outside the East London Magistrate’s Court where the bail hearing of Alutha Pasile, a man believed to have brutally murdered 23 year old Nosicelo Mtebeni, was being held; protesters under the #CodeRed Feminist movement took to the streets in various cities across the country and gathered in key national buildings including Constitution Hill and the Union Buildings to demand a Universal Basic Income Grant among other demands; Malibongwe Mdazo, an organiser of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), publicly gunned down;

Peaceful Assembly

Increase in protest action reported during COVID-19 lockdown

Although the vaccine rollout in South Africa has slowly been picking up, the country is currently experiencing a challenging phase of its economic recovery, with chronic hunger, malnutrition and unemployment making themselves felt more than ever before. As a result, South Africa is seeing increasing waves of protest action as citizens seek to express their grievances. According to the Institute for Security Studies Protest and Public Violence Monitor, during the lockdown period of 27th March to 31st July 2020, a total of 511 protests were recorded. This number has drastically increased in recent months as the biting effects of COVID-19 lockdowns continue to be felt, with a total of 169 protests being reported in June 2021, and 232 protests reported in July 2021 - the highest number ever recorded. South Africa has been reported to have one of the highest numbers of social protests in the world.

Tariff hikes spark protest

On 19th August 2021, residents of Middleburg took to the streets to denounce new tariff hikes and called for the Municipal Manager to resign. They were also outraged after officials cancelled community meetings. The protesters burnt trucks and barricaded roads, as the police blocked access roads to the affected area. The protests, which began in Hlalamnandi and Mhluzi townships, later spread to Extension 24, Rondebosch, Nasaret and Rockdale.

Protesters denounce brutal murder of student, call for end to GBV

On 23rd August 2021, crowds gathered outside the East London Magistrate’s Court where the bail hearing of Alutha Pasile, a man believed to have brutally murdered his girlfriend,23 year old Nosicelo Mtebeni, was being held.Mutilated body parts of Mtebeni, who was a law student at University of Fort Hare, had been discovered in a suitcase and plastic bag in the streets just days before, sparking public outrage over the murder. The protesters, who were in their hundreds, carried placards, sang songs and ran Twitter hashtags #AmINext, #JusticeForNosicelo, #StopKillingUs and #ReturnDeathPenalty to call for justice and an end to gender-based violence. The matter was postponed to 28th September 2021 to allow for further investigations.

A 2019 report categorised South Africa as having one of the highest rates of femicide in the world, and according to recent statistics from the South African Police Service, at least 10,006 people were raped between April and June 2021. The government is currently implementing the National Strategic Plan on Gender Based Violence, which includes legal reforms to key legislation on domestic violence and sentencing of offenders.

Protesters denounce socio-economic inequalities

On 27th August 2021, protesters under the #CodeRed Feminist movement took to the streets in various cities across the country and gathered in key national buildings including Constitution Hill and the Union Buildings to demand a Universal Basic Income Grant, an end to fiscal austerity, an end to government and corporate looting. The movement was formed in response to the July unrest that took place in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, sparked by the #FreeZuma protests.

The protesters said in their statement:

We want the government to stop making empty promises. When it comes to tackling GBV (gender-based violence) and the immense socio-economic inequalities in our country, that affect womxn and children the most, we need firm commitments that are backed with funding and resources, not political speak”.

Nine years later, no justice in sight for Marikana massacre families and survivors

On 16th August 2021, South Africa commemorated the ninth anniversary of the Marikana Massacre, which claimed the lives of 34 protesting mineworkers and left more than 70 others injured. Since the tragic event, the survivors of the massacre, as well as the families of the slain miners who were protesting for a salary increase, are yet to see justice. Despite the recent launching of a report looking into policing and crowd control in the South African Police Service by the Marikana Commission, as previously reported on the Monitor, South Africa continues to see increasing levels of police brutality and impunity for serious crimes and violations of human rights. Thishas especially been evident since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, as previously reported, with the ongoing national lockdown recording more cases.

Expression

New privacy law exempts information for journalistic purposes

The Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA) officially came into effect on 1st July 2021. The Act which gives effect to the constitutional right to privacy, provides conditions for the lawful processing of personal information. However, it provides for an “exclusion for journalistic purposes”, which essentially excludes the application of the Act to the processing of personal information which is solely for the purpose of journalistic expression, to the extent that such an exclusion is necessary to reconcile, as a matter of public interest, the right to privacy with the right to freedom of expression.

Court finds anti-LGBTIQ+ article constituted hate speech

On 31st July 2021, the Constitutional Court handed down judgment confirming that an article penned by the late Jon Qwelane, a journalist and former ambassador to Uganda, constituted hate speech in terms of section 10(1) of the Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act.

Mr Qwelane, a popular columnist, penned an article titled “Call me names – but gay is not okay”, which was published by the Sunday Sun newspaper in 2008. In the article, the applicant compared gay and lesbian people to animals and postulated that they were responsible for the rapid degeneration of values in society. After the article was published, the South African Human Rights Commission initiated hate speech proceedings against Qwelane.

In its findings, the court said that Qwelane’s words were harmful, promoted hatred on the basis of sexual orientation, and deprecated the LQBTIQ+ community as lesser beings. The judgment read in part:

“Homophobic speech is not only problematic because it injures the dignity of members of the LGBT+ community, but also because it contributes to an environment that serves to delegitimise their very existence and their right to be treated as equals.”

Association

Trade unionist publicly gunned down

Malibongwe Mdazo, an organiser of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), who had led a 7,000-worker strike in July 2021, was publicly gunned down on the doorstep of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), amidst a labour dispute on 19th August 2021.

Mdazo had led the July strike of 7,000 workers from Rustenburg city’s five mining companies contracted to Impala Platinum Holdings Limited (Implats), the second largest platinum producer in the world.NUMSA had taken the five companies to the labour dispute resolution body because of their refusal to recognise NUMSA, which claims to have a majority membership.

Before the August shooting, the CCMA was in the process of verifying NUMSA’s membership forms to establish whether the union had enough members to warrant recognition by one of the five companies, Newrak.

No arrests have been made at the time of writing.

Whistle blower killed in suspected assassination

Babita Deokaran, the chief director of financial accounting in the Gauteng Department of Health, was killed on Monday, 23rd August 2021, in what investigators believe was a targeted hit. Deokaran, who was a key witness in the Special Investigating Unit’s probe into - among others - fraudulent COVID-19 PPE contracts, was shot multiple times outside her home in Winchester Hills, Johannesburg as she returned from dropping her children at school. The deceased was not offered any protection by the State, even though they knew that she was a key witness in a matter that sought to expose the corruption of high officials. 

Association in South Africa

South African law allows for many types of NGOs to be formed, from community-based organisations to trusts and non-profit organisations.

South African law allows for many types of NGOs to be formed, from community-based organisations to trusts and non-profit organisations. Registration is not mandatory, however many groups choose to register formally as non-profits under the Non-Profit Organisations (NPO) Act 1997. Registration as an NPO allows access to public funding (through the national lottery for instance) and tax exemption status. As of 2012, it was reported that over 80,000 NPOs had been registered. Civil society has criticised government for being too quick to deregister organisations due to non-compliance when they have not established the necessary appeals and arbitration mechanisms. Civil society has also criticised a proposed government policy on NPOs to replace the current system with a new body designed to improve the quality of reporting and compliance. A draft law due for release in 2016 may address these concerns.

Peaceful assembly in South Africa

There is a culture of protest in South Africa with thousands of protests taking place each year; most are peaceful and focused on local issues.

There is a culture of protest in South Africa with thousands of protests taking place each year; most are peaceful and focused on local issues. Some however turn into confrontations with the South African Police Service (SAPS), who have been criticised for using excessive force in dealing with demonstrations it perceives as unruly or destructive. One report describes how police killed four peaceful protestors in the first three weeks of 2014. Impunity for police officers involved in the killing of protestors heightens fears that this heavy-handed approach to quashing protests has received political endorsement. Police violence during protests, therefore, is likely to continue. No officers have been convicted for the killings of Andries Tatane, Mido Macia or the 34 miners killed at Marikana on 16 August 2012. All three of those incidents were caught on video and widely circulated.