HRD killed, CSOs villified, protests documented
Xenophobia used as a political tactic ahead of 2024 elections
As the 2024 elections draw closer, xenophobic sentiments, hate speech and disinformation is used online as a political tactic to shift the blame of government failure to address crime, inciting violence and victimisation of migrants and affecting social cohesion in poor communities.
A joint investigation by the Legal Resources Centre and international NGO Global Witness revealed that social media platforms like Facebook, TikTok and YouTube fail to enforce their policies on hate speech and incitement to violence. According to the findings, the platforms approve any advertisements, including those that fuel hate speech and violence against migrants in communities. Inhuman and degrading sentiments like referring to migrants as a "disease" is often circulated on these social media platforms to incite hatred and hate speech. This further exacerbates the vulnerability of migrants and frustrates efforts to build social cohesion and integration of migrants in communities.
In related developments, the extension of the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit (ZEP) by the Gauteng High Court (Pretoria North) to June 2024 stirred negative reactions from some groups. Previously, the permit was set to expire on 31st December 2021 but was granted a 12-month grace period until December 2022, and extended several times by the Department of Home Affairs to June 2023, and then to December 2023. Long-distance truck drivers bore the brunt of the latest extension by the High Court. At least 21 trucks were reportedly burned in a series of five criminal incidents in KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo since 9th July 2023, in what is believed to be a tactic to dissuade foreign trucks and foreign truck drivers from operating in South Africa.
The African Centre for Migration & Society has created a Xenowatch Tracker where they estimate that in 2023 there have been 38 incidents, 856 displacements, 5 shops looted and 2 deaths.
Land rights activist shot dead
On 15th August 2023, land rights activist Jomo Keromeng was shot 16 times by two men in his house in front of his mother and child. Keromeng worked as a nurse at Tshwane District Hospital and was from the mining-affected community of Sefikile in Bakgatla Ba Kgafela, North West. His brutal murder shocked and saddened many and raised serious concerns about the safety and security of dedicated activists fighting for the rights of marginalised and vulnerable communities in South Africa.
Lawyers for Human Rights said that they have been engaged in a legal battle with Kgosi John Pilane, Chair of the Bakgatla Ba Kgafela Traditional Council, who was challenging his removal from office after a Commission of Enquiry found millions unaccounted for in a case of mismanagement of funds and corruption. The statement went on to say: “Although the biggest mining village in the country is on land bought by the Sefikiles, they never benefit from the mining and the community lives in abject poverty. Jomo Keromeng was at the forefront of fighting this injustice.
Keromeng paid the ultimate price for his activism, losing his life in the pursuit of justice, human rights and the dignity of the poor and vulnerable groups in his community.
Politician vilifies on Civil Society Organisations
Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Gwede Mantashe, has repeatedly used public platforms to attack civil society organisations (CSOs) and the philanthropies that fund them, accusing them of being CIA agents with negative agendas to block development in South Africa.
During the Southern Africa Oil and Gas Conference in Cape Town on 14th September 2023, Minister Mantashe is quoted having said that “...when a non-governmental organisation is funded by Ford Foundation, or by a number of those entities in the United States, you can’t rule out the fact that some of it comes from the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] and [is] a deliberate programme to block development in a poor country like South Africa”.
The minister was referring to court challenges which saw the high court ruling to set aside Shell’s seismic surveys off the Wild Coast of South Africa, which were granted unlawfully.
CSOs called on Minister Mantashe to recognise the urgent climate crisis resulting from heavy reliance on fossil fuels and to take a leadership role in transitioning to green and renewable energy sources. They have endorsed statements from groups like Green Connection and the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI). Additionally, Minister Mantashe was called on to retract his negative sentiments and act as a leader in government to engage in open and honest dialogues with CSOs to foster mutual respect and strengthen social cohesion.
Service delivery protests on access to clean water, electricity, housing, healthcare and education, among others, have become so common that they do not receive significant media coverage, except occasionally being mentioned in traffic news.
Bystander shot dead during protest
On 31st July 2023, Slovo Park residents blocked the busy N12 highway, protesting against a lack of water, sanitation and a stalled upgrade to the informal settlement. The protest, which included people of various age groups, led to a blockage of the highway for over six hours. The police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the protesters. Tragically, during the course of these events 16 year old Karabo Chaka, who had gone into a yard with other children to observe what was happening, was shot in the back of the head by police who had entered the yard. Karabo later succumbed to the injury while being transported to the Eldorado Park Clinic.
The case was transferred to IPID (Independent Police Investigative Directorate) for further investigation.
University students protest against NSFAS
On 2nd August 2023, a significant protest took place at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa. Thousands of university students participated in this protest, expressing their discontent with the National Student Financial Aid Scheme's (NSFAS) new payment system. The system, known as the #NSFASBankAccount System, was introduced by NSFAS in June 2023 and mandates students to open a bank account to access their financial aid. This new system had drawn significant criticism from students who argued that it imposed exorbitant fees and financial burdens on them. This protest marked the culmination of months of frustration and opposition from students regarding the new system.
The protest group at the Union Buildings submitted a memorandum to the Presidency that read:
“The South African higher education sector continues to be plagued by a crisis over funding and accommodation issues, since the dawn of democratic dispensation. This crisis continues unabated even though we were made a promise in 1994, that ‘THE DOORS OF LEARNING SHALL BE OPEN FOR ALL’.”
The protesters were met with heavy police resistance, with tear gas and rubber bullets allegedly fired at them. The protest resulted in the arrest of 20 students at the Union Building.
Protests related to electricity tariffs held in Western Cape.
On 17th August 2023, protesters from Majoks township marched to the municipal offices to hand over a memorandum of demand to the mayor over the issues of neglect, high electricity bills, the lack of electricity meter boxes in most of the shacks, and water. The police responded by declaring the march illegal, using rubber bullets, and in the ensuing chaos, protesters set the municipal offices on fire and looted shops.
A peaceful protest took place on 30th August 2023. Mayor Francois du Rand from the Swellendam Municipality accepted their memorandum and promised to respond to their demands.
On 20th September 2023, most of the protesters from Plakenspark informal settlement initiated a shutdown, protesting the unresolved issues with the town's indigent policy. A standoff occurred between the police and protesters, with police using rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowd and prevent them from accessing the highway. Some protesters threw stones, and the Swellendam Thusong Service Centre – a municipal building – and a vehicle were set on fire.
The main issue at hand is an 18.5% increase in electricity tariffs implemented in July 2023 and the decision to require annual re-application for indigent policy benefits. Mayor du Rand responded, saying that the change in policy only upset those who expected to continue receiving free services despite not qualifying for the subsidies, which he believes would come at the expense of indigent residents.
Demonstrators call for the immediate deportation of illegal immigrants
On 1st June 2023, a group of people marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa. The demonstration consisted of more than 30 organisations, with some political parties demanding the immediate deportation of illegal immigrants from the country and a clear plan of action from the presidency to address what they termed as an ongoing issue of illegal immigrants, citing concerns about foreigners overburdening state resources. They demanded that government enforce immigration laws and employment equity regulations in South Africa, asserting that a lawless situation would be unsustainable.
Journalist assaulted during Standard Bank protest
On 19th September 2023, the security personnel at Standard Bank manhandled Daily Maverick reporter Lerato Mutsila while she was on duty. Mutsila was covering the Extinction Rebellion protest at the bank’s Johannesburg headquarters. The incident involved the unacceptable deletion of photos and videos from Ms Mutsila’s phone and her violent removal from the bank’s premises by security personnel. Ms Mutsila asserted that she had identified herself as a member of the media, but her attempts to do so were allegedly ignored.
Ms Mutsila claimed that she faced intimidation and physical aggression. At least four male security guards, acting under the instructions of the bank's group manager for Internal Protection Services, forcibly expelled her from the building.
A charge of assault and unlawful deprivation of property was filed with the South African Police Service (SAPS) by the journalist in response to this incident.
Reporter manhandled during Interview
On 21st September 2023, a video went viral on Twitter of eNCA reporter Hloni Mtimkulu being physically assaulted and pushed out of a South African Post Office branch for interviewing government grant beneficiaries on their recent experience with the non-payment of grants.