The Right2Know Campaign (R2K) condemns the disruption of a peaceful community protest march in Moretele last week, and the subsequent action of private security officers in firing live ammunition at the crowd.
On Thursday 31st May 2012, the Moretele Concerned Communities association convened a protest march against poor service delivery, fraud and corruption. It was aimed at highlighting residents’ concerns before President Zuma visited the area on 2nd June 2012, and the marchers wanted to deliver a memorandum to political leaders at the Local Municipality. R2K supported the event in the interests of upholding the communities’ constitutional right to access information and their right to protest.
However, the marchers were prevented from entering the municipality area by several opponents, many clad in ANC t-shirts and bearing banners reading “Go to Hell! We are members of ANC. We are saying enough is enough with NFP marches!” Police stationed along the route of the march seemed to inspire confidence in the disrupters, who were about 350-strong in comparison with the marchers, who had about 1000 supporters. Less than 70 of the marchers were National Freedom Party (NFP) members. The organisers tried to reason with their opponents, displaying written proof that the march was legitimately organised by the Moretele Concerned Residents, but they were obdurate, insisting that “no memorandum is going to be taken today” and shouting “Viva ANC! Phansi NFP!”
When the standoff grew violent, with stones being thrown, an R2K representative asked the police to intervene, noting that the opponents of the march constituted an illegal gathering for which no permission had been obtained. But the police replied that they were waiting for backup to arrive. Those who opposed the march were singing Makuliwe (containing lyrics loosely translated as “Let there be fighting, they don’t listen”). Eventually, the numerically stronger marchers prevailed, breaking through the gate to the municipality offices. As both sides were throwing stones at each other, the security officers from the municipality intervened by shooting live ammunition into the crowd. The crowd ran out of the municipality grounds and some dispersed. The stone-throwing continued intermittently, with police looking on.
Later, the marchers moved to a nearby sports field, where they handed the memorandum to Mr Thabo Matheba, the Municipality’s HR Director. According to Chairperson Mr Thabo Mashogo, six members of the Moretele Concerned Residents were subsequently arrested by police on Saturday 2nd June, and charged with malicious damage to property. They remain in custody, with bail set at R1200 each.
R2K condemns the disruption of a peaceful, unarmed march by apparently partisan elements, which provoked unnecessary violence in preventing reasonable access to the municipality buildings. R2K also notes with concern that the police escort did not intervene to prevent the disruption of a legitimate protest action that had complied with the requirements of the Gatherings Act. R2K is outraged that live ammunition was used by private security officers against unarmed citizens, and that peaceful protestors were arrested and charged by police with damage that would not have occurred had the police acted to stop those who disrupted the march.
It is of particular concern that popular forms of expression such as protest marches, which were used less than two decades ago by the ruling party to achieve its political ends, are now threatened with censorship by those purporting to be supporters of that same political party. Such censorship, combined with the actions of the private security guards and the police, is indicative of the increasing securitisation of the state in our country, and a closing down of the space for legitimate civic action and protest. If such events are allowed to go unchallenged, R2K fears they will set a negative precedent and serve as covert ‘scare tactics’ to dissuade communities from exercising their rights to free expression and protest. It is in this spirit that R2K intends filing a formal complaint with the police regarding this incident.
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