Protests over corruption rock South Africa prior to Zuma's departure in February

On 14th February 2018, President Jacob Zuma announced his resignation after nearly nine years in power, a move prompted by an ultimatum from his party - the African National Congress (ANC) - which had ordered him to resign or face a vote of no confidence. As reported previously on the Monitor, frustration with Zuma's corrupt practices and misuse of public funds had sparked multiple protests across the country. South Africans faced several months of uncertainty when Zuma survived several votes of no-confidence before finally resigning. 

Peaceful Assembly

As part of the #FeesMustFall movement, students at the University of Cape Town led a series of protests during the last months of 2017. In October 2017, for instance, students blocked several sections of the University, forcing the administration to cancel classes for a few days. 

In response to the student mobilisations, the University petitioned the High Court to deliver a decision that would prevent further protest actions on campus. The Western Cape High Court ruled to prevent students from "performing actions that would obstruct or frustrate university services or decision-making processes" and "protesting unlawfully in any manner within 200 meters from any entrance to the university”.

Despite the decision, students continued the protests trashing and dumping waste on the campus grounds. Reports indicated that a few students were arrested, including a women who was reportedly charged with "public indecency" as she undressed during the protest.

The #FeesMustFall student-led protests began in 2015 and continued during 2016, when students on university campuses across South Africa "embarked on large-scale, disruptive protests calling for systemic changes to how universities operate and approach education, as well as how academic curricula are structured". A recent report by the organisation SERI documented the injuries caused by the disproportionate use of police force during these protests. They also report detailed cases where medical assistance to the injured students had been obstructed. 

A new development was reported regarding the trial against student leader Mcebo Dlamini, who was arrested in October 2016 in connection with the #FeesMustFall protests and charged with "violating a court order, public violence, assault, theft, and malicious damage to property". After being released on bail, a court date was finally set for July 2018, according to reports

In a separate incident, a group of Zuma supporters gathered in front of ANC's Headquarter to demand the political party to "allow Zuma to finish his term as the country’s President". The protest took placed a week before Zuma's resignation and according to reports, the protesters clashed with a group of anti-Zuma demonstrators. 

In a positive development, on 24th January 2018 the Western Cape High Court issued a decision in which it declared Section 12(1)(a) of the Regulation of Gatherings Act 205 of 1993 unconstitutional due to its limits on and criminalisation of the right to peaceful assembly. The provision imposes criminal penalties on any person who convenes a gathering of more than 15 people without notifying the relevant authority. The Court stated in its decision that:

“The criminalisation of a gathering of more than 15 on the basis that no notice was given violates s 17 of the Constitution as it deters people from exercising their fundamental right to assemble peacefully unarmed…the limitation is not reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society, based on the values of freedom, dignity and equality…Section 12 (1) (a) of the RGA is hereby declared unconstitutional”.


Several incidents that undermined freedom of expression in the country were reported during the last few months and are explained in detail below. 

Following the 29th October 2017 publication of the book The President’s Keepers, the State Security Agency sent Jacques Pauw, author of the book, and its publisher a cease and desist letter over what they called “unlawful publication of classified information”. The letter also threatened them with legal action if they failed "to withdraw the book". The book narrates the alleged "corrupt and compromised power networks in the government of former President Jacob Zuma". A few months later, in February 2018 it was reported that Hawks officers -South Africa's special crimes unit - had raided the home of Jacques Pauw looking for "secret state security files". The South African National Editors Forum (SANEF) issued a statement condemning the harassment against the journalist, declaring that:

"In the lead up to elections in 2019 the political temperature is set to rise in South Africa. It is particularly in these fractious, contentious periods that South Africans need to protect their journalists".  

In a separate incident, on February 13th the Film and Publication Board issued a decision that reclassified the film 'Inxeba: The Wound'  from 16LS to X18, which essentially means that "the film cannot be distributed except by designated adult premises, as defined by the Film and Publications Act no 96 of 1996".

The decision came after the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa called for banning the film on the grounds that "it reveals secrets about Xhosa circumcision rituals". The film producers challenged the decision in court. In March, the Pretoria High Court issued an interim decision that allows the movie to be screened in mainstream cinemas, however, a final decision is still pending. 

The Right2Know Campaign and the South African Screen Federation have joined the legal procedure as "amicus curiae" stating that:

"[T]olerance for artistic work that carries non-conventional opinion and values must be protected by the Constitution. The Tribunal’s ruling on Inxeba threatens to seriously undermine the production of artistic works that profile controversial issues. We are concerned that this will threaten the production of films that raise any degree of controversy and uncomfortable debate".

In another incident, it was reported that journalist Adrian de Kock from Media 24 was attacked by MP Nyiko Floyd Shivambu. The reporter was covering the disciplinary hearing of Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille's and approached Shivambu to get his reactions over the hearing and proceeded to take a picture. Shivambu requested that the picture be deleted, and when the journalist refused, Shivambu reportedly place "his hand around Adrian de Kock's neck". Shivambu later apologised and stated that he regretted his "impatience".