SA con­fronts democ­racy and ris­ing

CityPress - - News - DE­WALD VAN RENS­BURG de­wald.vrens­burg@city­press.co.za

Com­mu­nity protests, such as the ones ex­pe­ri­enced in Soweto this week against elec­tric­ity black­outs, have in­creas­ingly be­come “dis­or­derly” in a bid to dis­rupt the so­cial or­der and draw at­ten­tion to griev­ances.

Ac­cord­ing to new re­search re­leased this week by the SA Re­search Chair in So­cial Change at the Uni­ver­sity of Jo­han­nes­burg, ev­ery­day labour protests have re­mained over­whelm­ingly peace­ful.

It shows that dis­or­derly, or what po­lice call “vi­o­lent”, com­mu­nity protests out­num­bered or­derly ones for the first time in 2012 and con­tin­ued to do so in 2013.

The es­ti­mates were culled from 17 years of po­lice records on 156 230 “crowd in­ci­dents” – most of which were not protests.

The re­port comes up with an over­all es­ti­mate of 67 775 protests from 1997 to 2013. That is on av­er­age 11 per day, al­though it varies wildely from year to year.

Of the to­tal num­ber of protests recorded, only 22.1% (14 797) were “com­mu­nity protests”. That is be­tween two and three on av­er­age a day.

These are more or less what would be called “ser­vice-de­liv­ery protests”, but the team ar­gues that the pop­u­lar term is re­duc­tive.

“Over the whole pe­riod, 68% of com­mu­nity protests were or­derly,” said Carin Runci­man, lead author of the re­port and se­nior re­searcher at the SA Re­search Chair in So­cial Change.

“From 2012, it is the first time that there were more dis­or­derly than or­derly ones,” she told City Press.

The “dis­or­derly” protests in­clude those that “dis­rupt the nor­mal so­cial or­der, like bar­ri­cades”.

“It could give the ap­pear­ance of vi­o­lence, but re­ally it is just dis­rupt­ing the flow of traf­fic,” said Runci­man.

These make up most of the spike in non­peace­ful protests (see graph), as op­posed to ones where peo­ple are hurt or prop­erty is dam­aged.

“Most protest ac­tiv­i­ties in the world aim to be dis­rup­tive; you aim to dis­rupt the so­cial or­der to draw at­ten­tion to what­ever your de­mand is. Dis­rup­tive protest is to some ex­tent nor­mal,” she said.

Runci­man said the big sur­prise was dis­cov­er­ing how much of the protests recorded by po­lice were labour re­lated. They come to 46% of the in­ci­dents the re­searchers have cat­e­gorised as protests. That’s 30 825, or on av­er­age five per day.

The “vast ma­jor­ity”, 86%, of these were or­derly, said Runci­man.

This is not the num­ber of strikes, as each day of a protest is counted as a sep­a­rate protest.

“The scale of the labour protests is in­ter­est­ing ... There is al­ways this low-level labour ac­tiv­ity that is oc­cur­ring that most of us are un­aware of,” said Runci­man.

“If we just go on me­dia re­ports, we are sort of con­di­tioned to see protests as mostly com­mu­nity protests.”

The re­port shows that the over­all level of protests is not in­creas­ing. When you fac­tor in pop­u­la­tion growth, the ev­i­dence shows a slight de­cline in protest ac­tiv­ity over the past 17 years.

On a per capita ba­sis, the year with the most protests was 1998 (12 per 100 000 peo­ple), with 2006 and 2012 matched for sec­ond place (11 per 100 000).

An­other strange find­ing is that the North­ern Cape has, since 2005, be­come home to far more protests per capita than any other prov­ince.

The North­ern Cape’s seem­ing ex­plo­sion of protest ac­tiv­ity has no ob­vi­ous ex­pla­na­tion.

“We are ac­tu­ally still try­ing to fig­ure that out,” said Runci­man.

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