Maverick Citizen

MAVERICK CITIZEN INSIGHT

Police prohibit Human Rights Day anti-xenophobia march in Johannesburg

Community groups march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against poverty and xenophobia on 8 March 2017. The march was organised by the Coalition of Civics Against Xenophobia, which describes itself as a coalition of South Africans and foreigners living in the country. (Photo: Gallo Images / Thapelo Maphakela)

The Kopanang Africa Against Xenophobia march intends to show the generous side of South Africans, and lay blame for crime and unemployment where it belongs: at the door of corruption, State Capture, business and bad government. But now it has been prohibited.

Over the past month activists from a broad coalition of civil society organisations, Kopanang Africa Against Xenophobia (KAAX), have been preparing for a march to rally people in South Africa against xenophobia. The coalition includes trade unions, faith-based organisations and many NGOs.

Activists say the march is necessary to counter the rise of organisations and political parties that are actively promoting xenophobia in South Africa. They fear these organisations risk – or possibly intend – igniting a new violent conflagration that targets primarily black people from other African countries. These parties include the EFF, ActionSA and the Patriotic Alliance, along with Operation Dudula most recently.

The new wave of blame and xenophobia has caused fear and insecurity among many black foreigners, and has led to outbreaks of violence. 

The KAAX march intends to show the generous side of South Africans, and lay blame for crime and unemployment where it belongs: at the door of corruption, State Capture, business and bad government.

The activists have the law on their side.

In South Africa the right to protest is entrenched in the Constitution. The Bill of Rights states:

“Everyone has the right, peacefully and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket and to present petitions.”

One of the anti-xenophobia protesters who marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria on 8 March 2017. (Photo: Gallo Images / Thapelo Maphakela)

The importance of the right to protest to democracy is such that the courts have been at pains to protect it, making it clear that under the Regulation of Gatherings Act, demonstrations do not require “permission” from the police or government, but only advance notification, so that relevant authorities can ensure the safety of protesters, the public and property. 

Only in rare and exceptional circumstances may a march be banned. 

This was the outcome of a case brought by SECTION27 in 2016, on behalf of 94 community health workers in the Free State who had been arrested for participating in an “illegal demonstration” against the Free State health department. Their convictions were eventually quashed after a ruling by the Free State High Court. 

People who had occupied a Soweto post office were ‘evicted’ by locals who wanted to remove foreign nationals from various buildings in the area on 16 June 2021. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Kim Ludbrook)

According to the law, where possible the police must be notified 10 days in advance of planned marches and pickets of more than 14 people. 

In keeping with this, according to its organisers, KAAX first notified the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD) of the march nearly two weeks ago.

Marchers were due to gather at Pieter Roos Park, near Hillbrow, and march through Johannesburg, ending at the Johannesburg Central Police Station. It has specifically been chosen to mark Human Rights Day, publicly celebrated and recognised as a holiday on the anniversary of the Sharpeville Massacre, as xenophobia is a threat to human rights.

Residents calling for the removal of  foreign natioanls brandish weapons during a march through Soweto on 16 June 2021. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Kim Ludbrook)

However, in a meeting with the JMPD on Thursday, the march organisers were informed that the march has been prohibited on the grounds of safety.

The police refused to provide written reasons. 

However, KAAX says that “their stated reason is… Operation Dudula has been circulating messages of intimidation and threats of disruption directed at KAAX, our march and any so-called illegal immigrants who participate”.

KAAX says that “this makes it crystal clear that the police simply do not want to do their job, are effectively caving in to the blackmail of Operation Dudula and are blatantly violating the rights of KAAX and all those participating in the march”.

Community groups march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria in protest against poverty and xenophobia on 8 March 2017. (Photo: Gallo Images / Thapelo Maphakela)

Indeed, the police’s refusal to grant permission is in stark contrast to the impunity with which Operation Dudula in particular has been able to gather and march in suburbs and townships like Hillbrow, Orange Grove, Alexandra and Soweto. Their marches have been pregnant with the threat of violence and have deliberately sought to intimidate foreign people.

In a related matter, the courts have also refused to intervene. A report in the Sowetan this week explains that the Johannesburg High Court dismissed an attempt by 38 foreigners to interdict Operation Dudula from its campaign on grounds that it was not urgent. 

By contrast the KAAX march is intended to be peaceful and to persuade people not to join xenophobic movements.

Job seekers in Johannesburg on 4 June 2021. South Africa’s official unemployment rate reportedly rose to 32.6% between January and March 2021, from 32.5% in the previous quarter of 2020. (Photo: Gallo Images / Luba Lesolle)

JMPD spokesperson Xolani Fihla confirmed  on Friday that the march was  “not authorised.” He said that the notification had been considered by the JMPD committee on Wednesday 16 March and that “a major factor was that other groups were opposing the march creating a possibly volatile situation.” Therefore, it was felt that it should “rather be averted than have casualties on the day.”

Another reason, Fihla said, was that KAAX had refused to withdraw a flyer
calling on immigrants to “march against South African laws”. However,
when informed that this flyer had in fact been  distributed as part of a misinformation campaign against the planned march, Fihla said that this was “what the {JMPD} committee had said”.

Fihla says the protesters’ bid for an urgent court review was “the democratic
right of the organisers”. Should a court rule in the marchers’  favour the
JMPD would comply. In the meantime, the police will remain on high alert.

March organisers expressed shock at the JMPD’s refusal. As a result, they have postponed the Johannesburg march until Saturday, 26 March, and are consulting lawyers from Right2Protest and the Socio-Economic Rights Institute who plan to bring an urgent application next week to overturn the JMPD’s decision. 

They have called on all people who “desire an inclusive, tolerant, equal and more just society to come and join us [on 26 March] to celebrate diversity, defend equality and struggle for justice for all”. 

They are also planning to hold a press conference at 10.30am on Sunday at the Human Rights Festival on Constitution Hill to set out their next steps. DM/MC

Gallery

Comments - share your knowledge and experience

Please note you must be a Maverick Insider to comment. Sign up here or sign in if you are already an Insider.

Everybody has an opinion but not everyone has the knowledge and the experience to contribute meaningfully to a discussion. That’s what we want from our members. Help us learn with your expertise and insights on articles that we publish. We encourage different, respectful viewpoints to further our understanding of the world. View our comments policy here.

All Comments 4

  • I have not seen much media coverage yet but there was horrific (hacked and burnt victims) xenophobic attacks in Robertson the past two days. While one can understand the job fears, these crowd murders are sub-human. Animals kill when they have to and without cheering – what is wrong with us?

  • I hate this xenophobia that has taken over our country, and I hate that people fighting xenophobia are being gagged because of the very violence they are opposing. And I HATE that there are political parties legitimizing xenophobia, how disgusting! Poor governance and corruption are the causes of poverty, not foreigners, ‘illegal’ or not. It is so important that those of us against this sickness are allowed to stand up and be counted because otherwise people start to believe, for lack of visible opposition, that everyone is xenophobic, and that it’s somehow normal. It is not. Shame on all of you bigots.

  • “Human Rights Day” in South Africa is another example of Orwellian New speak, where radical economic transformation means radical economic corruption and armed invasion means defence.

  • The cops have no idea what their job is, and where the limits of their powers are. The fact that they feel they don’t need to formally respond is also revealing. They are so much part of the problem, it’s easy to believe they ARE the problem.

  • Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted