Continued public frustration, spurred on by delays in government addressing the spatial and socio-economic legacies of apartheid, coupled with the run-up to next year’s national election, has seen the frequency of civic protests escalate in the past few years. In the first four months of 2018 the City of Cape Town reported 145 mass protests or land occupations, and its Anti-Land Invasion Unit removed 26 000 housing structures – more than four times its monthly average in 2017.
These protests are also increasingly violent – in 2017, 94% of protests escalated violently compared to 76% in 2004. The violence affects thousands of residents, businesses, and public services causing death, injury, trauma, damage to property, loss of productivity, loss of jobs, and destruction of community cohesion. South Africa ranks 123rdout of 163 countries according to the Global Peace Index of the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), performing especially poorly in perceived high levels of criminality; easy access to weapons; relatively high levels of political terror and high levels of violent demonstrations. The IEP estimates that such levels of violence and insecurity cost South Africa 22.3% of GDP – roughly R34,500 per person annually.
The South African Police Service (SAPS) have yet to be transformed into a corps that can engage with protests in a manner that upholds and promotes the values of South Africa’s democratic Constitution. The vacuum, in a country where security and safety are at a premium, has been filled by the private security industry, per capita the fourth largest private security industry in the world and accountable neither to parliament nor the public.
SAPS through its Public Order Policing units rarely chooses to engage with protesters in a way that helps to diffuse tension and de-escalate potential conflict. Additionally, the role of militarised and unaccountable private security companies, untrained in crowd control or conflict reduction, often serves as a catalyst for the escalation of conflict.