Today as we commemorate the deaths of 69 protesters who were gunned down in 1960 in Sharpeville and kwaLanga for refusing to carry a dompas or pass book, we cannot help but express deep concern over the shrinking space for dissent in our democracy. Human Rights Day marks one of the most important days in the history of South Africa and it presents us with an opportunity to reflect on the road travelled in our hard fought democracy.
The right to protest is a fundamental human right guaranteed in our Constitution and is critical to ensuring that ordinary citizens are able to voice their dissatisfaction and to hold government and the private sector accountable for their actions and obligations. For some time now protests have been consistently criminalised; protesters are shot at with stun grenades and rubber bullets. Sometimes, as we saw during the Marikana massacre, police use live ammunition and automatic weapons to kill protesters with legitimate grievances. We continue to remember the life of comrade Andries Tatane, who was killed by the police during a protest for access to clean water. By attacking the right to dissent and criminalising protest, both government and private security services severely undermine our fundamental human rights and the quest for social justice.
Our political environment has become very volatile and is increasingly showing elements of criminality. The country is still reeling from the news that 15 computers with sensitive information about judges were stolen from Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng’s offices, while other computers closer to the office’s entrance were left behind. While we should be careful not to apportion direct blame, we find it very strange that the break-in happened a day after the the Constitutional Court handed down its ruling on the social grant crisis. From another angle, this might look like an attack on the judiciary. Just yesterday, the home of former director general of the Department of Social Development, Zane Dangor, was broken into. While nothing was actually stolen, Dangor has publically stated that he strongly believes the burglars were looking for his laptop.
Further, we note with great concern the continued silence of government in relation to the on-going violent murders happening in Glebelands Hostels, KwaZulu-Natal. There is ample evidence to suggest that these unsolved murder cases are somehow linked to the political leaders of the province including the councillor of that area but no one is willing to hold them to account. The human rights of Glebelands residents are violated as they no longer have freedom of movement, while those who dare raise the alarm about their conditions are harassed, arrested, tortured and murdered. We demand that the killers are arrested and prosecuted. We demand an immediate end to the deaths and intimidation of Glebelands residents. Justice, which applies to everyone regardless of race, class, gender and ethnicity must be served in Glebelands.
This failing government is trying everything at its disposal to stifle dissenting voices, as evidenced by recent comments by State Security Minister David Mahlobo of the intention to regulate social media, one of the most effective and robust tools for activist communication and mobilisation. As R2K we see this as a clear move by state securocrats to try to clamp down on freedom of expression and increase their powers to censor the internet. It comes on the back of a range of existing, deeply problematic censorship policies, including the Film & Publication Board’s internet censorship regulations, the draft Hate Speech Bill, and the new Cybercrimes Bill, which would ‘hand the keys of the internet’ to Minister of State Security.
On this Human Rights Day, we urge South Africans to never back down in their individual and collective struggles for political, social, economic and environmental justice. The right to protest, freedom of expression, and equality before the law are central to all those struggles.
We have a Right2Protest!
Viva Social Activism!