New civil society alliance formed to prevent violent protest and promote peaceful elections
14 July 2016
Pretoria, South Africa – As South Africa prepares for local government elections on 3 August, we urge government to take decisive action to prevent violent protests, says the Coalition Against Violence.
Leading civil society organisations formed the alliance to promote the peaceful resolution of public protests. The Coalition Against Violence is made up of organisations working to prevent violent protests and is coordinated by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) and the Institute for Security Studies (ISS).
‘We are very concerned that violent protests are increasing as local government elections approach’, says Nomfundo Mogapi, Executive Director of CSVR. ‘The coalition will draw attention to the trends and put pressure on government and political parties to act appropriately.’
The coalition was formed following a meeting in Johannesburg earlier this month to review the state of violent protests in the country. It will host a seminar at the ISS on 20 July to review local government responses to violent protests. The event will outline how government, community, business, media and civil society can help prevent protest action turning violent.
‘Municipalities must take applications to hold a protest seriously’, says ISS researcher Lizette Lancaster. ‘The right to protest, demonstrate or strike is entrenched in Section 17 of South Africa’s Constitution and this needs to be respected’.
The Coalition Against Violence will focus on addressing the triggers that increase the risk of protests turning violent. Equally important are the factors that prevent violence from breaking out in the first place.
‘The causes of violent protests in South Africa are complex,’ says Mogapi. ‘But this doesn’t mean that protest action should be discouraged, or that appropriate responses can’t be taken to minimise the impact of violence in the weeks ahead.
‘Underlying issues such as socioeconomic exclusion, inequality, poverty, unemployment and unresolved trauma related to our past all come into play. Communities feel stripped of their dignity and mistrust those in authority.’
Research by ISS and CSVR shows that a range of factors can influence whether or not protests become violent. These include the conduct of leaders, law enforcement agencies, government departments or private companies that may be the target of protests.
The key question, says Lancaster, is why many communities feel that peaceful protests are not working to resolve their grievances. ‘We know that people often resort to violence after other avenues have been exhausted. Violence is a desperate expression of dissatisfaction’.
The coalition aims to promote human dignity in how government engages with communities and meets people’s needs. It calls on political parties to respect the Electoral Commission’s Code of Conduct. Communities must hold political representatives and their parties accountable through peaceful means and via the ballot box.
‘Together we will build a broad coalition to support ongoing programmes to prevent violent protests in our society’ says Mogapi.
The coalition is calling on South Africans to support this initiative and play their part.
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