NEWS

What's Behind The Violent Protests Gathering Pace In Communities Throughout South Africa

Experts explain what drives residents to extreme action.

10/05/2017 15:19 SAST | Updated 10/05/2017 15:53 SAST

Analysis

Burning, looting, stoning and destruction -- this is the current atmosphere in some parts of the country right now.

With intense protests erupting across Johannesburg, Limpopo and the North West, HuffPost SA asked experts to unpack what drives communities into disarray and what can be done to quell the violence.

In addition to this week's chaos in Vuwani, Coligny and Johannesburg's southern suburbs, communities in Vhulaudzi and Laudium, near Pretoria, also took to the streets today.

In Limpopo's Vhulaudzi township, a police station and two vehicles were torched last night when a mob attacked officers over the disappearance of a young woman earlier this week. Hours later in Laudium, police had to use rubber bullets to disperse a group of about 100 Itireleng residents who blocked roads with burning tyres in demand of basic service delivery.

There are also violent protests erupting in Gugulethu, Cape Town, over issues of service delivery.

Selby Xinwa, a senior researcher at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR), said the violent demonstrations are not isolated events and that their findings show there were thousands of protests in the country since the beginning of last year.

Xinwa said protests of this nature are the result of "genuine concerns" from community members, but criminal elements soon creep in. Once that happens, government leaders focus on the criminality and neglect the community's original concerns.

"South Africa has normalized violence. There is a mentality that if I have a grievance, I need to break, steal and burn to be heard. Another reason is the mistrust between leadership and the communities," he said.

"In the context of the Johannesburg protests, over the past few years, a wide-scale development in Soweto resulted in a migration to the South-West areas for those who did not get houses. This created overpopulation in Eldorado Park and Ennerdale which in turn left many without basic services. But this region has been neglected for a long time as well."

Xinwa believes to quell the violence, there needs to be a resuscitation of activism in communities.

"Communities must understand violence won't solve problems, a common ground needs to be found. Protests are part of our constitutional right, but that right must be directed in a constructive means," he said.

Municipal IQ economist, Karen Heese, said the protests may be for different reasons, but they are all "volatile situations" where national issues are at play.

"In Eldorado Park and other surrounding areas, communities are protesting over issues of governance. In Vuwani, the assumption is that service delivery would be less efficient under a new municipality," Heese said.

She said municipalities need to spend time speaking with their communities because protests often break out over simple miscommunications.

"At a national level, parties need to focus on instilling discipline within their supporters and the tone needs to be set in parliament. There also needs to be more consequences for those involved in criminal acts during protests," Heese said.