2012 has seen the highest number of protests since 1994. And around 80% of these were more violent than before. (http://www.sowetanlive.co.za/news/2012/10/11/the-year-that-anger-boils-over.). In the Western Cape we saw 179 violent strikes and protests. This involved the burning of tyres, utilising force, carrying sticks or other weapons and blocking roads with barricades. There appeared to be a spike in these violent protests from September, which were also very widespread, whereas it had been previously unheard of to have such a large number of simultaneous outbursts (http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/179-violent-protests-in-Western-Cape-in-2012-20130131.).
In order to keep protesters under control, police have been challenged to the extreme, “We are concerned because public unrest takes place in the context of violence and violent crimes in our society, and the police often find themselves in compromising situations,” said Thabo Matsose, Sapu second vice president. Often police themselves cannot escape this violence and are killed. Police have been largely unable to cope with the recent surge of protests (http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/Violent-protests-a-challenge-for-cops-union-20121016.).
Similar views were expressed by the Institute for Security Studies; “You [are] looking at a number of two million people involved in violent protests in the past five years which had a police response,” said ISS crime and justice head Gareth Newham. Most of the anger of the protesters appeared to be directed towards local government, but police were obliged to act on it. In response to violence police had to in turn use forceful, even violent measures, such as “firing teargas, rubber bullets… to disperse people and to prevent people from doing the kind of damage they can,” said Newham. This response by the police has created it’s own problems, as “this means that the people involved see police as part of the problem and they stop reporting crime… ” (http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/Violent-protests-a-challenge-for-cops-union-20121016.).
What really worries me however, are the recent cases of police brutality reported, for example video footage of 9 police officers dragging a taxi driver behind a police vehicle for about 400m. The man died of various injuries. The officers are currently charged with the murder of the taxi driver whose crime was causing obstruction and “resisting arrest” . There was also the recent killing of 34 marikana miners, which were shot by police during a strike. This police brutality trend goes back a few years as well, with the 2011 death of mathematics teacher and community activist Andries Tatane who was bludgeoned to death by 12 police officers during a service delivery protest in Ficksburg. And let’s not forget the 2010 shooting of 15 year old Kwazi Ndlovu (http://www.africareview.com/Blogs/Trend-of-police-brutality-in-South-Africa-worrying-/-/979192/1718858/-/p9t5lo/-/index.html.). The problem of police brutality therefore goes FAR beyond just it’s treatment of protesters.
In the State of the Nation address, Zuma called on protesters to exercise their right to ordered and peaceful protests, saying it was unacceptable “when people’s rights are violated by perpetrators of violent actions…” But he mentioned nothing about the police brutality, which has caused a public outrage (http://mg.co.za/article/2013-03-15-00-police-brutality-on-the-march.). To me this brutality trend along with many bad experiences people that I know have had with police and law enforcers, begs the question, can and should such low-paid, undertrained officers be trusted to enforce law and maintain peace, or is this away of displacing their anger on those over whom they can exert power. How can those in positions of authority be so hypocritical, and commit the very crimes they are meant to be preventing? Police continuously use excessive force on street protesters, and last year, police officials even had to announce restrictions on the use of rubber bullets against protesters due to increased reports of serious injuries.
As far as I’m concerned the problem with violent protests/strikes is two fold. The number of them being carried out at present is of course very alarming. Yes the protesters are having to resort to more drastic measures in order to get attention, but they are only doing this because peaceful demonstrations seldom appear to bring about change (a problem that needs urgent attention at present) . Police respond to this in a way that they see fit. Sometimes, I agree, there is little else to be done besides trying to dissipate the action, but it is clear in other cases that the police are abusing their own power. If the police cannot exercise peace and control, then how are the citizens expected to? They are adding to an already very serious problem of violence in South Africa. The recent police brutality also means that people feel that they have no one to turn to, to trust, and the police at times become a force equally as violent as it’s people.