Protest and Repression in South Africa
Durban, South Africa.
The recent surge of unconnected community protests across South Africa confirms the country’s profound social, economic and environmental contradictions. But if activists fall before a new hail of police bullets, or if they lack an overarching political strategy, won’t their demonstrations simply pop up and quickly fall back down again – deserving the curse-words ‘popcorn protests’ – as they run out of steam, or worse, get channelled by opportunists into a new round of xenophobic attacks?
It’s been a hot winter, and we’re just halfway through July (the Centre for Civil Society’s Social Protest Observatory keeps tabs: http://ccs.ukzn.ac.za). Consider evidence from just the past two weeks, for example, in Johannesburg’s distant Orange Farm township south of Soweto, where residents rose up against city councillors and national electricity officials because of the unaffordable $250 installation charged for hated prepayment (i.e. self-disconnection) meters, not to mention a 130% increase in electricity prices since 2008.
Nearby, in Boksburg’s Holomisa shack settlement, 50 activists were arrested after blocking roads with burning tyres. Likewise, in the port city of East London’s Egoli township, house allocation controversies led to a brief uprising, and down the coast, high-profile Port Elizabeth road barricade protests again broke out over failing services in Walmer township.
Near the Botswana border close to Northwest Province’s Morokweng village, a dozen residents angry about inadequate state services were arrested for arson, public violence and malicious damage to school property, following months of frustrated non-violent protest; while in the provincial capital of Mahikeng, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate began an investigation into a death on July 4: “The deceased was allegedly shot and run over by a police vehicle during a service delivery protest in the area.” Continue reading