At the heart of discontent: measuring public violence in South Africa

At the heart of discontent: measuring public violence in South Africa

civil protests and strike action have become increasingly commonplace in South Africa. Although several institutions collect data on various forms of protest, the available information varies in quality, reliability, coverage and accessibility. it is for this reason that the institute for Security Studies launched its interactive public and election violence-monitoring project in 2014.

The objective of this project is to enhance understanding of the nature and extent of all forms of public violence taking place across South Africa to contribute to better initiatives that address their root causes. this paper sets out some of the preliminary findings from the project and provides initial considerations for ensuring appropriate responses to protest and strike action.

Measuring public violence is complicated by the difficulty of developing a suitable definition that adequately describes the phenomenon in all its various forms. Moreover, the nature of public violence can shift or expand, with, for example, a protest starting over inadequate housing but resulting in attacks on foreign-owned shopkeepers. research also shows that inappropriate actions by state and non-state actors can escalate tensions and result in violence..Without an improvement in the understanding of the extent, nature and dynamics of different forms of public violence, it will be difficult to develop and implement effective strategies or responses that result in sustainable reductions.
 
Certain steps can be taken to improve responses to the challenge of addressing public violence in South Africa:
  • efforts should focus on collaboration and analysis by all role players to establish a common understanding of the meaning of ‘violence’ during crowd events. This process should include the development of a shared and objective definition of ‘violence’ during crowd events
  • national information-gathering system should be established. It could be similar to the peace monitor system that existed during the first years of democracy. This emanated from the signing of the National Peace Accord and the Election Monitoring Services once managed by the now defunct Institute for Democracy in Africa
  • further research is required to examine the inter-relatedness of various forms of public violence and the triggers that can lead to these forms of violence. For example, the triggers for xenophobic attacks need to be interrogated, as well as whether these can be identified and addressed before their resulting in physical violence
  • mechanisms for the notification of public marches or protests should be user friendly and permission should be encouraged, unless rational and clear reasons for denial are given and discussed. The research shows that the notification processes provide an opportunity for organisers, municipalities and the police to open dialogue that could minimise the occurrence of violence during public events
  • the role of the SAPS , as well as of the metro or traffic police and private security, in relation to managing incidents of public disorder needs to be the topic of further research. This should include not only analysis of law enforcement’s capacity, methods, actions and inactions but also an examination of the potential need for improved command and control, as well as gaps in training and policy
  • better monitoring of the period leading up to the 2016 local government elections will allow the IEC to better identify hotspots and strengthen its dispute and conflict resolution capacity in these areas. It will also capacitate other role players such as the police and officials from the Department of Local Governance and Traditional Affairs and local government to respond quickly and effectively to threats of intimidation and violence. This may help to ensure that this phenomenon does not
    threaten South Africa’s proud track record of free and fair elections
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