We note with concern that state violence against Cato Crest residents and activists is not an isolated case. In post apartheid South Africa there has been a growing and alarming trend towards the brutal repression by the police and local government of poor and working class communities who seek to exercise their democratic rights by protesting for their most basic human needs to be met. Members of such communities have been arrested, imprisoned, and even killed for demanding decent housing, employment, a living wage, electricity, water, and education. These resources are integral to living with respect and dignity and are resources that the middle and upper class take for granted.
Three of the most notable incidents of state violence include the killing of Andries Tatane in Ficksburg (2011), the Marikana massacre (2012), and the killing of three activists in Cato Crest (2013). In all incidents, the perpetrators of violence remain unpunished. This failure to take decisive, criminal action against the police sends a signal that the lives of the poor are less valuable and their deaths are acceptable casualties in the making of our new democracy. It shows that the law in South Africa is not for the poor and working class, but only protects those with wealth and power.
We reject this. We believe that all who live in South Africa have the right to protest and live without fear of police violence or political harassment, and intimidation.
It is clear that we cannot trust the state and business to restrain the police. Building a strong, democratic, grass roots politics is the first step towards halting violence against poor and working class communities. It is up to us to keep the police and politicians accountable.
It is within this context that we call for the following –
1.) Protest is a basic democratic right. We demand that all police and private security present at demonstrations should be disarmed. No live ammunition, rubber bullets, water tankers, pepper spray etc. should be allowed.
2.) Freedom of association is a basic democratic right. We call for political tolerance in the run up to the next election. People have the right to choose not to vote, or to vote for the political party of their choice. Political intimidation and thuggery undermines democracy.
* This statement was released by the Unemployed People’s Movement and students and staff of Rhodes University ahead of a protest march on October 30, 2013