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This is what’s driving angry South Africans to violent protest

This is what’s driving angry South Africans to violent protest

In the last couple of weeks, South Africa’s major political parties have begun publishing their manifestos and candidate lists and positioning themselves for the municipal elections set for 3 August. At the same time, protests against the economic and political situation have continued across the country.

The increase in protests – combined with a history of violence, structural inequality and growing frustration with the ruling African National Congress (ANC) – leads many to question whether South Africa would maintain its tradition of peaceful elections in August.

Apart from some threatening behaviour directed at the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) during the national elections of 2014, election violence does not have deep roots in South Africa. That said, protest has become a part of daily life, increasing since 2010 (see Figure 1). These protests are linked to service delivery, demarcation, labour, university fees and staffing – and, since last year, protests directly calling for the resignation of President Jacob Zuma.

Protests and violence against civilians, South Africa, 1997-2015

Source: ACLED Version 6, 1997-2015

The mobilisation of protest and its coverage are increasingly politicised. The South African Broadcasting Commission (SABC) recently announced that it will no longer air stories about violent protest, with the intent to reduce publicity of the perpetrators and instigators.

This decision provoked widespread criticism, with many saying it amounted to outright censorship. Although there can be little doubt that a copycat effect exists and that scenes of violence and outrage may serve to instigate the same elsewhere, social media can readily bypass efforts at media control.

In addition, the direct engagement and support of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in the so-called ‘fees must fall’ student protests is an example of how protest can be politicised. Protestors are by nature more easily co-opted by politicians and media; which is a cause for concern in the pre-election period.

Analysis of the ISS Public Violence Monitor data from January 2013 to December 2015 suggests that South Africa sees an average of three protests per day (including labour strikes).

Public violence by motivation

Source: ISS Public Violence Monitor

Election-related violence occurs frequently in many Africa democracies. Electoral processes are more likely to turn violent in settings characterised by latent conflict, systemic grievances and tensions surrounding political competition and power-sharing agreements. Another driving factor is when governments are actively factional in favouring one ethnic group above others.

The 2007 national elections in Kenya were some of the most violent on the continent: more than 1 200 people were killed and over 350 000 were displaced. These events showed that politicians can and do mobilise citizens to engage in illegal and violent behaviour in order to bolster support and suppress the opposition.

This has also been evident in South Africa, where instigation by local councillors is apparently behind the burning of over 25 schools in Malumele in Limpopo Province over a rezoning dispute that would seen them lose their jobs. The damage led hundreds of children to miss school and will cost millions to repair.

Yet, so far, South Africans have voted peacefully since democracy took hold in 1994. Will the country be able to maintain this tradition or should we be worried? Some analysts have voiced concern that the upcoming elections could be the most violent in South Africa’s history.

A recent study by the University of Georgetown suggests that historical conflict factors, structural risk factors as well as election-specific factors can help to explain a country’s risk of experiencing election-related violence.

South Africa is a violent country. Given the history of apartheid, violence is a learned expression of grievance, and is often used as a form of communication across and within communities.

Looking at the crime data since 2000, murder rates – a common measure of overall crime levels – peaked in 2001/2002 at 47.8%, then reached their lowest levels in 2011/2012 at 30.2%, but have been increasing since. All forms of armed robbery have increased since 2011/2012, while vigilantism and xenophobia are ongoing challenges.

Structurally, South Africa has the highest inequality in the world and a staggering unemployment rate of nearly 25%. In addition, 53% of the country is defined as ‘poor’, or living on less than R779 per month in 2011.

The bottom four deciles of earners are predominantly black, living in rural areas or informal urban settlements. There are few rungs for households to move up the income ladder. Government’s extensive social welfare programme is only able to ward off extreme poverty and cannot reduce inequality without rapid growth and job creation.

The looming junk status downgrade by international financial agencies has been avoided to date, but many predict it can’t be held off for long. This will affect investment and therefore growth. South Africa’s structural inequality is inextricably linked to its social instability.

Simultaneously, the movement calling for Zuma’s removal and an end to the corruption, nepotism and cronyism rife in the Executive has seen up to 10 000 protesters gather, in some instances.

The Nkandla scandal revealed the president’s intent to ignore his constitutional obligations, and the behaviour of the rand following the firing of Finance Minister Nene in December 2015 was merely one example of the damage that these actions inflict on the country’s prospects.

Unsurprisingly, Afrobarometer 2015 survey findings show a steady decline in trust of public institutions over time, with trust in the Executive experiencing the steepest drop. Only a third of South Africans are said to trust Zuma ‘somewhat’ or ‘a lot’; down from a near two-thirds positive response rate to the same question in 2011. Meanwhile, opposition parties are growing in support and rigour.

It is evident that change is wanted. Before the growth in protests, elections formed the main avenue to demand change in democratic South Africa. Whether people will participate in a peaceful and constructive way this August remains to be seen; but it seems there is a confluence of factors suggesting we may need to be more prepared.

These factors and more are examined a series of three publications on the state of South Africa and its medium term prospects to be launched at the ISS in Pretoria on 21 June and in Cape Town on 29 June.

By Ciara Aucoin, Researcher, and Jakkie Cilliers, Head, African Futures and Innovation Section, ISS Pretoria

More on protest in South Africa

How the SABC is covering the Tshwane protests vs what’s really happening

What the government doesn’t want you to know about violent protests in SA

This is how many protests there are per day in South Africa


The Institute for Security Studies is a leading African organisation that enhances human security to enable sustainable development and economic prosperity in Africa. It works acro...
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  • John Dove

    The Zuma years in graphic reality.

    • CRM083

      LOL I was about to say the same!

  • James Dean

    With all the service delivery protests over the past 20 years we should be living in a utopia by now.

  • Cheesy 3.0

    ..all part of the downward spiral of the ‘new’ South Africa.

  • Charl van der Merwe

    Whats the definition of stupidity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, like ANC voters that take part in protests, AND THEN VOTE ANC AGAIN at election time.

    Utterly moronic.

    • Mikhael Rowe

      Funny how this comment gets repeated all the time.

      • Charl van der Merwe

        A fact doesn’t become obsolete the the more times it is repeated.

        • Mikhael Rowe

          No man, it was suppose to be read as humor. Sorry, my apologies, sometimes my trying to be funny gets really silly and stupid.
          And like Sheldon’s mom said, “That fact is YOUR opinion”.

    • Blapartheid Zulu

      Or, maybe they just enjoy protesting. So they vote ANC to get a reason to loot and destroy

    • Steady_B2k

      You get what you vote for. Viva African National Corruption Viva.

    • David Van Zyl

      Insanity…

  • GIDION

    stupid stupid and more stupid to protest in that manner and hide themselves behind zuma making him an excuse of those filthy acts they are doing,we need to grow up why then burn peoples properties and killing innocent people then if the person they are behind is zuma why are they not going to Nkandla and burn his property or assassinate him instead not that I am insitting but mearly making an example,I for one spit on their behaviour and I wonder who is behind all of this because it once happened in Thokoza and we blamed each other only to find that there were others behind all of that the third party so I wont be suppressed if after all this we are going to be told of a forth party watch the space but grow up south Africans let us expose those people behind this because they are there believe me or not.Sis man.

    • Batman

      This is directly linked to 26% unemployment figure. This is a day out for the unemployed to get some freebies. Our great anc lead government set the example so why not. Businesses will slowly close down and go offshore. Junk status now a given we begged for it so now its here. All of a sudden Zim doesn’t look that bad!!!!!

    • awethu

      The looters are promised free booze in exchange for burning buildings and institutions. They’re either funded by the opposition, corrupt businessmen or western powers

      You must remember that the spring uprisings started the very same way, why do we always think we’re exempt?

      • Wessel Pieters

        This remark makes your share go down.
        Why blame everything else but the Value system?

        • awethu

          If the looters were performing these acts on their own accord then yes, but they themselves said that they were offered booze to burn things and create anarchy

          Dont get me wrong the people are disgruntled and tribalism is at the root of it, the Thswane people want a thswane leader and that’s understandable, but this violence stems from something else

          • Wessel Pieters

            Of course they need to blame others.

            Who was dishing out booze; Anton Rupert, Anglo America, Sasol, any Westerners in the area, or perhaps Judu?
            he had his hands full in Tembisa….same old story.

            Please recalibrate….you are a smart person.

          • awethu

            The point is that these people were paid to burn these buildings

          • Civilspider

            The point is, please provide proof! it is easy to say others paid them! And yes, the looters will say that. I do not think that I would like to take their word for it. By looting and burning stuff you have proven yourself as an untrustworthy individual. Not the pinnacle of shining citizenship is it?

          • awethu

            Just google vuwani alcohol and youll find plenty proof

          • Civilspider

            Ok, so I took you up on your offer. I read the piece on Mail & Gardian. This is one of the statements in there. “State Security Minister David Mahlobo warned this week that more people, including chiefs, politicians and business people allegedly involved in criminal activities in Vuwani, will be arrested” So where is the West in this? This is all about people trying to protect their own turf.

          • awethu

            Do you expect them to be wearing USA tshirts or what? And this is what i said: “They’re either funded by the opposition, corrupt businessmen or western powers”

          • Civilspider

            All I’ll say is “SHAGGY, it wasn’t me” ha ha ha ha ha. hilarious how it is always the other person. You cant blame me, they asked me to do it.

      • I think your compass needs re-calibrating. Nowadays, most of the corrupt business practices in SA come direct from Eastern countries. (Except those that are home-grown, of course.)

        • awethu

          Eastern countries have no interest in destabilizing the BRICS. It’s western countries who stand to lose out the most economically

          • Wessel Pieters

            Utterly complete nonsense.
            Please get real.
            The World does not need Africa or BRICS.
            Russia is junk.
            Brazil is junk.
            China has 300% government debt…the highest in the world and a currency that have been devalued twice already.
            SA is insignificant with 50% debt and on the way to junk.
            India has high debt and surviving.
            All have failing currencies. including Chinese devaluation against the USD.
            In short: BRICS will have to borrow money from the World bank and IMF IF it wants to mean anything!
            You need serious recalibration.

          • awethu

            “As of 2015, the five BRICS countries represent over 3 billion people, or 42% of the world population; all five members are in the top 25 of the world by population, and four are in the top 10. The five nations have a combined nominal GDP of US$16.039 trillion, equivalent to approximately 20% of the gross world product, and an estimated US$4 trillion in combined foreign reserves. “

          • Civilspider

            “3 billion people” of which about 90% is bloody lazy and contributing nothing to the economy. They are leaches sitting waiting for handouts.

          • awethu

            I dont know about that but what i do know is that the BRICS is considered a threat by the west

          • Fanandala

            Bulldust! Russia and China are in some aspects considered threats. South Africa and Brazil would not even have the strength to hold off a single aircraft carrier group.

          • Fanandala

            The BRICS are like the TV show “Survivor”, each one tries to outwit the other and get some sort of advantage out of the others.
            And South Africa is the weakest link. I don’t know what makes you think they are charitable to one another, or that the others whose economy is multiples larger than ours even consider us full members.

      • Billy

        haha there is very little western power influence left in this country. I’d blame our greedy politicians toying with our weak minded inhabitants. Creating smoke screens to hide the truth that they don’t care about anything but money.

      • michael wilson

        They are funded by local councillors who are afraid of losing their meal tickets should the hierarchies change. Even the ANC has admitted that disgruntled members sparked these protests in Tshwane, yet here you carry on about 3rd forces, western powers and anything except the most obvious.

  • Hennie

    I don’t want to throw stones but since EFF came on the scene these violent protests increased. I hope we don’t have a violent election in August.

    • LBS

      It’s going to get worse. These protests yesterday in Tshwane had as little to do with the new chosen Mayor than what the protests of the students had to do with the fees they had to pay. And I am convinced the EFF is behind it, but also, is the ANC not using the EFF to start the Revolution? Doing the dirty work in order to “get the land” and get rid of the Whites?

    • Is EFF cause or effect? I’m not sure.

  • Real Ist

    Culture is

  • Anonnic

    Sure because in the US where 1% control more then 70% of the countries wealth they are probably the most equal right? 169 Mass shootings in the US in 8 years. We have our problems, but at least its domestic, violent protests of inequality. Paris is burning, the EU is just as stagnant as SA. Democracy has FAILED!

  • awethu

    The reason there are so many protests right now is because people feel unheard. If the ANC is to continue in government they need to reform or else it is doomed, they need to open up the choosing of our leaders to us the people. Leaders need to rally the support of the people and be elected by the people. These protests in Pretoria prove exactly that, the people dont approve of the mayor the ANC has chosen

    • Wandes

      I agree with you, but why can’t the leadership see this? This isn’t the only time they have shown themselves to be out of touch with the people and very arrogant.

      • awethu

        Their arrogance is off-putting and is reminiscent of dictatorship

    • Razmataz

      ANC does not need to reform policies. They have some of the best in the world. They need to reform the moral compass of elected leaders. They need to reform the moral ethos of the party, but unfortunately politics is about lies. There really is no party better than the other. It’s all a question of who benefits at what time and stage. DA, EFF, ANC they’re all the same.

      • marls1950

        and that is worldwide…….globalism at its best

        • Razmataz

          Yup. Worldwide. FIFA, Panama, lobbying in the US. No one is better. Only the people suffer. And it doesn’t matter who we vote for.

    • Charles

      Nothing will change until the ANC’s grip on power is lessened. Any thinking person that votes for ANY political party with 60% + of the vote is not thinking. What worries me is that you say “will loose my vote”. If you feel excluded, they should already have lost your vote. It is the only way people in power change, make them uncomfortable – make your voice heard.

      • awethu

        I just want to see if they’ll propose any structural policy reforms post municipal elections. Or if they’ll consider voting Zuma out, or if they’ll consider a constituency based electoral system, if neither of these are on their agenda then i’m sorry, I cant, sadly. I’d hate to vote for DA but with options so few they just may win it

        • Wessel Pieters

          It would be informative to learn from you why you “hate to vote for the DA”?
          I read your comments and concur with your views, but the reason for your aversion to the DA is inconsistent with rational argument; specially when comparing performance in JNB-PTA with Cape Town.

        • Civilspider

          Why would you hate to vote DA. I would be quite interested to know the reason. I know loads of other black people say the ANC is their liberation party and they will forever vote for them (not clever by the way) but would be interested in your view

        • Fanandala

          If the ANC kleptrocrats get enough votes in the coming election what makes you think they will change their ways, or introduce reforms?
          E. g. you are learning to play a musical instrument, and your teacher tells you always you are doing well even if you don’t, why would you put more effort into it? But if he gives you low marks, and tells you to pull up your socks and fails you in your tests you will realise that you need to do better.

  • disqus_YXczy1K8mI

    so who are the real racists in Africa then? ….sigh..

    • Blapartheid Zulu

      Everyone

      • Wessel Pieters

        Values are driving the so called “racism”.
        There is no White-on-Black violence in SA.
        There is no Black-on-White violence in SA.
        But there are strong opinions…informed by the Value Systems.

  • Betterestdayz

    It’s so blasé a renaissance of oils and pallets and musical mechanical things. ..our renaissance cannot function without fire alone. ..

  • GP

    The natives are getting restless.

  • Wynand Deyzel

    When faced with a choice, why do South Africans always choose the violent option first? No prior discussion, negotiation, it’s a simple choice; I’m unhappy, so I throw stones and set fire to all and everyone’s property, despite them not having anything to do with my unhappiness! I cannot understand this culture…

    • Wessel Pieters

      The Ubuntu cultures view everything outside the tribal boundaries as hostile and must be destroyed. This is the fundamental reason why Africa is a violent continent.
      The Pretoria today violence is purely Zulu (Nominated mayor) hatred by the Tswanas even although the Tswana mayor is an useless administrator that has no clue about governance.
      Prior to ’94 it was USSR inspired and funded Black-on-White and later Black-on-Black violence.
      Ubuntu needs to be transformed from the Dark Ages to the Modern Age.

      • LBS

        Ain’t gonna happen

        • Wessel Pieters

          You may be right.
          It did not happen in the last 1000 years.
          Let’s see what happens in the next 3 generations…75 years.

      • awethu

        Sure but division exists in afrikaans and english cultures too, europe went through the same things, jews are worse

        In joburg we have cultures from all over africa and we co-exist just fine.

  • Danie

    I can not understand why people are so surprised (even shocked) when reality hits. They keep voting for the same people that make the exact same promises every election and deliver the same results after every election. South Africa is just following suit of a big number of African countries (very tempted to say almost all). The same experiment with the same parameters, that were used as template for so many other African countries, will for sure have the same results. Results which unfortunately (by very costly [life, etc.] experience non the less) is not so great.

    • Wessel Pieters

      Whites have been living next to Blacks for the last 180 years and still have not realised that Ubuntu values are driving the behaviour of Blacks in general.
      That is why you do not understand the Black political dynamics.
      Many Blacks also do not realize this either. They just blame anything outside their known cultural domain.
      Moletsi Mbeki is vocal about the need for Africa to transform to Western values if it is going to be relevant on this planet.
      It took the Russians 70 years to discover reality. The Chinese is working hard on it; makes progress but has along way to go. Africa is still lost in its own Blackness instead of accepting the challenges of transformation. Here and there is a light in the tunnel; Rwanda, Kenia, Zambia and maybe Nigeria. South Africa not: as White influence wane SA sinks in tribal fighting like in Northwest, Limpopo, Maparalanga, Kwa-zulu and now in Pretoria.

  • Jacobus Pienaars

    Any comment Namba Wan?

    • Fanandala

      Hehehehe.

  • Billy

    I live in hope that one day South Africa will be a great nation. This will never be the case under the ANC.. All they want to do is hide behind Zuma and steal as much money as they can when they are in power. I’d be surprised if even 1 anc member is there for the good of the country and its citizens.

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