Maverick Citizen

DAYS OF BRUTALITY OP-ED

Ignoring the drivers and causes of violence is our undoing

Ignoring the drivers and causes of violence is our undoing
The aftermath of the Tembisa violence on 2 August 2022. (Photo: Gallo Images / Luba Lesolle)

Violence has become a code, one that we need to unpack and decipher by peeling off the layers of its root causes, key drivers, triggers and fuellers.

In just seven days, we have experienced different types of violence and we are still reeling from it. From the gang rape and violation of eight women in Krugersdorp, the hacking to death of two schoolgirls in Ngwangwane village in KwaZulu-Natal, to violent service delivery protests in Tembisa, the killing of citizens by the police and the mob murder by community members from Mogale City. This is deeply concerning.

What is even more worrying is the fact that this magnitude of violence is not new in South Africa, nor are these isolated incidents in 2022. 

Patterns of these types of violence have formed over time.

Violent crimes targeting women and girls in Krugersdorp and Ngwangwane village are a stark reminder that women are not safe in a country dubbed the rape capital of the world, with a femicide rate that is five times the global average.

This violence against women on the eve of Women’s Month in South Africa dampens the commemoration and celebration of strides made towards gender equality and women’s rights protection in the country. 

Violent protests in Tembisa remind us of many others that have taken place across the nation over the years, the most recent being the July 2021 protests that led to loss of life and revealed the fault lines of division along race, class and politics. 

Shades of Marikana

The violent response by the police to the violent protests takes us back to the Marikana massacre in August 2012.

And the mob murder of a person in Mogale City brings back the images of the Zandspruit vigilante killings in May 2021, and the mob killing of a Zimbabwean man in Diepsloot in April 2022.

The recent deaths of two people due to police action in Tembisa are indicative of the failure of the SA Police Service (SAPS) to ensure public order policing within acceptable international legal and human rights standards, as well as South African laws. The heavy-handedness of the police, particularly the use of live ammunition to control protesters in Tembisa, is a brutal reminder that not enough has been done to reform the SAPS after Marikana. 

The use of live ammunition during protests in a constitutional democratic society like ours is in direct contravention of the right of citizens to protest enshrined in the Bill of Rights and the Regulation of Gatherings Act which is premised on the fact that everyone has the right to participate in protests with the protection of the police.  

The failure to implement the police reform recommendations that were made by the panel of experts in the aftermath of the Marikana massacre and which are backed by international best practice, haunts our society today. 

Communities at breaking point

The violent protests and the mayhem that accompanies them cannot be attributed to criminality alone. 

A lot would have happened first before community members resorted to violence, and ignoring the drivers and causes of violent protests is our undoing. In Tembisa, the protests followed the breakdown in communications between the members of the Ekurhuleni Mayoral Committee represented by the councillor for Tembisa, Siyanda Makhubo, and the Tembisa Community Forum. 

The protests are also a response to socioeconomic hardships that community members have been subjected to. We have seen a rapid increase in the cost of living on the back of the Covid-19 crisis and subsequent advanced lockdown protocols for more than two years, the high levels of unemployment, increase in rates and electricity levies and rising food costs following the escalation in fuel and oil prices globally.  

Families living in poorly resourced communities face an increasing burden of putting food on the table and are falling under the poverty line into distress and food insecurity. Many needy families are excluded from the R350 social grant and the calls from civil society for an increase of this grant have been largely ignored.  

In Tembisa in particular, the violent protests came on the back of municipality rates, electricity and water price increases, amid rolling blackouts and minimal service delivery. 

The resilience of community members and citizens is at breaking point and unless we locate the violence to the socioeconomic impacts that have overstretched the resilience of the majority of South Africa’s less privileged communities who bear the brunt of these unilateral government decisions, our responses will only escalate and not reduce violence.


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The approach to handling the violent protests points to a lack of leadership in addressing socioeconomic challenges that are not new to South African communities. There is an urgent need for visionary leadership to be present in communities, to build relational bridges and be proactive in addressing challenges instead of the current reactionary approach to crises where leadership becomes visible only when there are threats of violence.

There is also a need for a much wider stakeholder engagement and platforms to give voice to communities on decisions that will have a significant impact on their living conditions instead of government entities making unilateral decisions, hoping that communities will silently comply. This top-down approach is no longer tenable for South African communities as can be seen from the increasing number of service delivery protests that are turning violent.

Responsive leadership lacking

Had our leadership been responsive to the socioeconomic impacts of their decisions on citizens, they would have seen the urgent need to address these issues by working with community leaders and key community influencers, creating platforms for social cohesion and dialogue on the cost-of-living challenges facing communities such as Tembisa and they would have worked with communities using a solution-orientated approach. 

The mob killing in Mogale City is indicative of the loss of trust and confidence in the criminal justice system by citizens. It also points to the high levels of frustration and anger that community members are exhibiting in response to crime, criminal impunity and lack of justice in issues that they would have raised repeatedly in the past.

The issue of zama zamas and the criminality surrounding them is not new, and the laxity of police in responding to this issue when residents first raised it has contributed to communities taking the law into their own hands. Issues of police visibility in communities, criminal justice response to crime and criminality and the need to take community grievances seriously are being spotlighted once again.

In all these occurrences of the past seven days, violence is a common theme, a common denominator, one we cannot afford to ignore.

Violence has become a code, one that we need to unpack and decipher by peeling off the layers of its root causes, key drivers, triggers and fuellers. This calls for safe spaces for dialogue in dealing with the problem of violent protests, crime and response in South Africa — from a root cause, key driver, trigger and fueller perspectives. DM/MC

Annah Moyo-Kupeta is the executive director of the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, whose mission is to promote sustainable peace at community, national, regional, and global levels by understanding, preventing and addressing the effects of violence and inequality.

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