Sonke Gender Justice condemns the latest escalation of violence and indiscriminate looting happening in various parts of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. According to reports, as of 13 July 2021 the number of fatalities had risen to 72 and police have made 1234 arrests.
The myriad of under lying causes reflect deep socio-economic frustrations that have not been addressed by government at local, provincial and national level but instead South Africans have been subjected to brazen corruption and looting of public resources.
Sonke has noted with grave concern the incidents of gender-based violence, xenophobia, ethnic conflict, and underlining acts of racism that have erupted during this unrest. We know that it is during times of conflict that womxn and girls suffer disproportionally because of how existing inequalities are magnified, and social networks break down, thus making them more vulnerable to abuse, and sexual violence.
We have also noted the increasing numbers of young people involved in this unrest. Large numbers of unemployed youth, whose economic vulnerability has been compromised and exploited by those who have resorted to violence and looting.
Of even greater concern is that this unrest has been unfolding amidst South Africa’s COVID-19 third wave and has severely undermined ongoing efforts to thwart off the spread of this deadly pandemic.
There are reports indicating that several vaccination centers have closed and been unable to operate amongst the chaos thus threatening the health and well-being of thousands of people.
We have noted with serious concern the injury and loss of lives, and the damage to property which will no doubt have far-reaching and long-lasting implications on an already stressed society. Many Black owned businesses have been severely affected; livelihoods have been destroyed. There will be more job losses, prices on basic commodities. Thus, a devastating impact all round.
We have witnessed a serious failure of the police to successfully prevent and respond to the increasing incidents of violence and looting. The police service has been found wanting and overwhelmed. The deployment of the army must be to protect communities by acting as a peace-keeping force and not to exercise brute force.
The use of military personnel to police citizens in a democratic state is becoming commonplace of late and this is worrisome as soldiers are not necessarily trained to interact with civilians. It was only last year, Collins Khosa and several others senselessly their lives at the hands of the SANDF.
The failure of the SAPS to contain the situation has also resulted in communities and individuals ‘arming’ themselves for the purposes of ‘preventing looting’ and in many instances protecting their families and homes, a move which if not monitored closely could also potentially escalate the existing violence. The right to protest peacefully is accepted as an important instrument of social and political change. But this must be carried out within the ambits of the law.
We strongly urge the government of South Africa to:
- To monitor the actions of the police and army and ensure that no undue and disproportionate force is used in attempts to maintain order in line with the UN Best Practices on Policing and as a peace-keeping force.
- We call on leaders to go to the ground and engage with communities to ensure that there is lowering of tensions. This will also require that leaders desist from using inflammatory language that heightens tensions.
- Pay particular attention to the structural and socio-economic issues underlying this spate of violence and to make provisions for the implementation of the Basic Income Grant as a matter of urgency to mitigate the huge poverty challenges confronting many in our society.
- For the State to be proactive in rolling out access to food, water and security, as per the provisions of the Maputo Protocol, with specific attention given to vulnerable members of society and ensuring that military mobilization is put in place to respond to food shortages and rising levels of hunger.
- Be more pro-active rather than reactive when dealing with crises of this nature and to take reasonable and adequate steps to protect the lives, peace, and security of its citizens.
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