Time to re-establish local and regional dispute resolution processes and to look to the national peace secretariat for lessons which can be applied today.
The deaths of police, miners and security guards in and around Marikana in August this year were the most visible and recent manifestation of a growing problem in South Africa.
Professional and non-partisan management of the right to assembly, demonstration, picket and petition has broken down. On one hand marginalised and frustrated protesters have lost faith in the state and elected officials to hear and respond to their grievances; on the other non-partisan public order management to enable citizens to make their voices heard in a peaceful way has collapsed. The result is increasing police brutality and intolerance and increasingly violent and disruptive protests. This is a vicious cycle in which there can be no winners.
South Africa has been this way before. The rights enshrined in the Constitution speak directly to our past. The mandate of the police and other security services is also very clear: “national security must reflect the resolve of South Africans, as individuals and as a nation, to live as equals, to live in peace and harmony, to be free from fear and want and to seek a better life.” The constitution requires “good relations between the police and the community” and gives provinces authority to oversee this. The drafters of the Constitution lived through the breakdown in relations, the use of the police as a force of political repression, and the lack of freedom for the expression of grievances by citizens whether organised or not.
Clearly the culture of free peaceful political expression, irrespective of its ideology or partisan support, respected and protected by the police has to be recreated. Public violence has to be prevented and the voices of people have to be heard.
We call on South Africans to take responsibility for developing programmes of violence and police monitoring, peace building at local level and the accompaniment of protesters and picketers in order to ensure their safety and that of others. While the church was visible in Marikana as an independent reconciliatory and mediatory body after the massacre, this came too late. Preventive activity has to be taken and has to be organised.
We have left this too long, allowing the myriad of ‘service delivery’ protests to go unmonitored, unobserved and unresolved, leaving both local communities and poorly trained and equipped police, backed by the incorrect public order doctrines, vulnerable. Much damage has been done and this may well have led in part to the results seen in Marikana. Who can say what would have happened if a cadre of citizens and citizen organisations had been coaxing both police and protesters into more peaceful approaches in which trust was being developed that the Constitution would be upheld.
We want to remind the nation of the National Peace Accord which had 5 inter-related actions: a Code of Conduct for political parties and organisations; a Code of Conduct to be adhered to by every police official to the best of his or her ability, as well as a detailed agreement on the security forces; An agreement on development with two parts:
“The process of reconstruction and socio-economic development aimed at addressing the causes of violent conflict, must be conducted in a non-partisan manner, that is, without being controlled by any political organisation or being to the advantage of any political group at the expense of another” and “Reconstruction and developmental projects must actively involve the affected communities. Through a process of inclusive negotiations involving recipients, experts and donors, the community must be able to conceive, implement and take responsibility for projects in a co-ordinated way as close to the grassroots as possible. In addition, reconstruction and development must facilitate the development of the economic and human resources of the communities concerned.” A commitment to investigate violence and ensure it has media attention; and The establishment of a National Peace Secretariat with local and regional dispute resolution committees.
South Africa closed the book on these very important transitional processes but unfortunately we have lost the civic and state commitment to reducing public violence and the capacity to do this which was created in these various hard working and successful collaborations of citizens and the state.
In the light of the Marikana massacre and the festering protests in the Northern Cape at present, we believe it is time to construct an equivalent suitable to the present day.
For more information contact Idasa External Relations Manager Olmo von Meijenfeldt on email@example.com or on +27 (0)79 872 8092
Or visit our website at www.idasa.org