Right2Know, the Freedom of Expression Institute, Socio-Economic Rights Institute, Section 27, Centre for Applied Legal Studies, and Lawyers for Human Rig are collaborating to develop a for a project to support the right to protest in South Africa.
The project will provide support to protesters who encounter problems in exercising their right to protest peacefully and unarmed. The project aims to support protesters in three ways: first, providing a telephonic advice service for victims of violations of the right to protest; secondly, a protest alert service for the media, civil society and others to obtain real-time information about protests and their underlying issues; thirdly, research on protest to inform advocacy efforts.
Disgruntled communities are routinely prevented from exercising their right to protest. The authorities regularly contravene the Regulation of Gatherings Act with impunity. Protests are often inherently political and may criticise the conduct of politicians, officials and business people in ways that they may not like; hence, there is greater potential for suppression of protests that there is of other public gatherings. Gatherings and protests are important as they bring issues of great importance to public attention. Poor communities, who often don’t have easy access to the media, rely especially on protests to bring to light grievances, especially against municipalities. They are an important safety valve, allowing frustrations to be expressed, while also being a crucial mechanism to hold government and business to account, especially local government.
The tragic events of Marikana and elsewhere have taught us that the lack of support for protesters and the suppression of their right to communicate grievances can have fatal consequences. While there are many analyses of protests by the media and academia, even commissions of enquiry after the fact, there is virtually no support for protesters before and during protests. There is a window of opportunity before every protest for intervention to prevent that protest descending into violence and repression. This may take the form of strategic advice, legal intervention or brokering a settlement between the protesters and authorities. It may also take the form of facilitating publicity of their grievances and networking amongst activists.
The information collected by the hotline will be used to provide information and analysis and supporting documentation to key stakeholders, including those who are directly affected by the problem, Parliament and government, the police, journalists and civil society to publicise the finding and conduct advocacy in support of the right to protest.
A full project proposal is available upon request.