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‘It’s a cry for help’: Civil society coalition proposes measures to address riots

‘It’s a cry for help’: Civil society coalition proposes measures to address riots
Members of the South African National Defence Force patrol Diepkloof Square in Soweto on 13 July 2021. The soldiers were deployed to help the police quell violent protests that started in KwaZulu-Natal last week following the arrest of former president Jacob Zuma. (Photo: Gallo Images/Alet Pretorius)

Tuesday’s media briefing by the C-19 People’s Coalition unpacked the ‘unrest’ and SA National Defence Force deployment. It was also a platform for the civil society collective to present its plans for the directions and interventions needed to end the crisis and address the socioeconomic roots of the violence.

“We must have a strategic outlook on the recent civil unrest. There are two sides to this: the systematic or structural side of inequality, and the repression. But why is this coming up now? It is because of a particular instigation via [Jacob] Zuma and his supporters who cynically seek to appropriate people’s hunger and desperation for their short-term gain through reactionary politics,” said Dale McKinley, a long-time political activist.

These comments were made during a virtual briefing on Tuesday, 13 July, where the C-19 People’s Coalition, an alliance of more than 400 NGOs and social movements, called for a credible break with inequality and the development of new pathways crafted through democratic deliberation.

On Wednesday, the coalition issued a statement arising from its discussion, calling on the government to:

  1. Ensure that where the deployment of the military is unavoidable, it is used as a short-term tactical intervention aimed at singularly ending the syndicated criminal violence bent on creating conditions of upheaval;
  2. Focus protection on those who are most vulnerable to political violence, including informal traders and small businesses;
  3. Stop the state’s tacit and explicit support for xenophobic violence. Protect all who live in South Africa and emphasise that everyone is a valued member of our society whose human rights must be protected;
  4. Reinstate the Covid Social Relief of Distress grant for the unemployed and caregivers alike, at an increased amount of R585 per month; and ensure that South African Social Security Agency offices are opened and protected and move rapidly to an expanded Basic Income Guarantee of at least R1,268;
  5. Roll back the austerity cuts to social services, including healthcare, education and water, so that people have access to adequate healthcare, decent education, sufficient school nutrition and clean drinking water;
  6. Ensure that vaccine and chronic medication roll-outs can continue unhindered, hospital admissions are managed as best as possible in this third wave of the pandemic, and further Covid-19 deaths are minimised as a result of the unrest;
  7. Adopt an integrated civil society and community response to establish a holistic roadmap to de-escalate the unrest and provide urgent relief to those affected; and
  8. Organise an urgent public assembly with the President and ministers of accountable departments, including Treasury, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs and Social Development, to ensure each of the above is adequately addressed through a partnership with civil society.

In their call for what should be done going forward, the coalition referred to its 10-point programme of action announced in March 2020, at the time the C-19 People’s Coalition was formed.

The coalition and its allies believe the unrest over the past five days is a result 0f the unjust economic system necessitated by the government’s failure to extend basic social protection during the latest lockdown. They say the crisis is coupled with pre-existing issues related to unemployment, hunger, desperation and lack of inclusion in the economy and structure for vulnerable communities.

Noting the factionalism within the ANC and the Constitutional Court sentencing Zuma to 15 months in prison that allegedly sparked the unrest, Motsi Khokhoma, co-founder of Botshabelo Unemployed Movement, said a time bomb had exploded after many years of lack of political accountability.

SANDF members patrol Diepkloof Square in Soweto during violent protests on 13 July 2021. (Photo by Gallo Images/Alet Pretorius)

“The uncoordinated unrest taking place is a result of lack of direction in South Africa. Most of the issues put forward have been pre-existing and left unresolved, subjecting poor people to more struggle and desperation. Not to endorse the crime and violence happening, but these riots and looting are a cry for help to the disaffected governance without any clear solutions or plans,” said Khokhoma.

“We as the civil society collectively note how the government has been reactive to the crisis at hand rather than responsive, thus the deployment of the SANDF.”

The Right2Know (R2K) campaign has condemned the deployment of the SANDF, which it says reinforces the highest levels of failure within the South African Police Service, as is the case in many other departments in the country. In a separate statement, R2K expressed dismay at how President Cyril Ramaphosa, the security cluster and leaders of the ANC have responded to the civil unrest. R2K is calling for:

  • The ministers in the security cluster, specifically Ayanda Dlodlo and Bheki Cele, to resign with immediate effect for failing to protect the nation; 
  • Responses and solutions that will deal with the hunger that millions of South Africans are facing;
  • All South Africans to act and speak out against racism or racist behaviour; and 
  • A stop to attacks on journalists and community media such as Alex FM.

Activist Sacha Knox, a senior researcher and budget analyst at the Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute, suggests a strong legal approach to instigators of violence and crime to ensure accountability. “The question is: is there a mechanism to report human rights abuses and hate crimes?” asks Knox.

Meanwhile, the C-19 People’s Coalition is calling on civil society and grassroots organisations and communities to help mobilise as independent watchdogs of the army and police, to prevent a repeat of the atrocities committed in the Level 5 deployment in 2020 where the SANDF behaved like “yet another criminal gang”. DM/MC

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Gerrie Pretorius Pretorius says:

    The anc must take full responsibility for the state that SA is currently experiencing. They have been ‘ruling’ the people since 1994 and what they have given us is what we see on the news and experience in our streets the past couple of days. (In fact – the last 17 years!)

  • Steve Rogers says:

    Political criminals have robbed and destroyed the country for decades. Taxpayers carry on paying.

    The government launches handouts for millions of people. These people must simply show up for the grant. They have no responsibility to work in any way.

    The same criminals foment further destruction and robbery, supported by millions of people who wantonly destroy billions of Rands of property. The same taxpayers will be asked to pay.

    Now the C-19 People’s Coalition above would like government to pay everyone R1268 a month with no responsibilities.

    Who pays for this?

    While I support the idea of an income grant, the recipients must work unless unable to. Otherwise we build a society of people who get used to surviving without responsibilities. That society will meet a dead end.

    And secondly, we must rid South Africa of socialism which has (again) plainly failed to deliver. Free the economy to deliver, get the government out of business and focus on education.

    Otherwise, this merry go round of calm and chaos will continue unabated with politicians scheming their way around each obstacle to personal enrichment.

  • Warren Banks says:

    “[U]ncoordinated unrest” seems like a stretch.

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