SAFTU does not support attacks on the police by protesting members of the public including SAFTU members, workers in general, community activists and students. The Walter Sisulu University protests this week featured the burning of a police nyala, for example which we condemn in the strongest terms possible
SAFTU has repeatedly condemned the brutalisation of activists by the police during peaceful protests across the country. Last month, Mthokozisi Ntumba – a bystander in Braamfontein during a Wits student protest – was killed as a result of overzealous policing, and all of society was pleased that four members of the Gauteng SA Police Service (Tshepiso Kekana, Cidraas Motseothata, Madimetja Legodi and Victor Mohammed) were arrested and face murder charges.
The latest annual report of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate reveals 393 cases of police murders investigated in 2018/2019 and 392 in 2019/2020. The African Union campaign “Silencing the Guns by 2020” was last year led by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa – but obviously his own police did not get the memo.
We will continue to oppose the periodic abuse of police powers because instead of addressing the underlying problems that grip our society, especially related to extreme desperation along class, race and gender lines, the state uses the police to repress our genuine grievances.
Hence the growing resistance of ordinary working-class people fighting against lack of service delivery. Police Minister Bheki Cele acknowledged last week in parliament that his Incident Registration Information System recorded 909 social protests over a six-month period from 1 August 2020 to 31 January 2021. Two months of this period were a strict Level 3 lockdown in which public gatherings were prohibited, but conditions were extreme, so activists remained busy organising high levels of dissent.
The 5.05 protests per day in the recent period reflect a rate twice as high as the past seven years (an average of 2.26 protests daily), according to the Institute for Security Studies Protest and Public Violence Monitor. The high point in these statistics was the month of July 2020, with an average of 8 protests daily.
The three main reasons for public anger in 2020-21 were extreme lockdown restrictions and crime, including gender-based violence (14%); labour grievances including inadequate supply of protective equipment to healthcare workers (13%); and cut-offs of electricity supply, including Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyters’ winter-time mass disconnections to entire areas, representing apartheid-style “collective punishment” for non-payment. Of these protests, 38% were violent or disruptive, often because of police provocation.
We recall that on a prior occasion as police commissioner, before being he was fired in 2013 for maladministration (R1.7 billion of improper spending on building leases) by then President Jacob Zuma, current Minister Bheki Cele had in 2009 told his members they should “shoot to kill.” He then claimed this was the position articulated by Susan Shabangu, then the deputy police minister. Last week, Cele told KwaZulu-Natal police to “take no prisoners.”
It is this attitude, reflecting a culture of state violence in what is the world’s most unequal country, that some members of the police force exhibit during social protests. It is this attitude that reminds society of the unforgiveable 2012 Marikana Massacre, which will always remain a blood stain on the current President – in part because of the ongoing failure to prosecute police leadership and those murderers who executed unarmed mineworkers, some at point-blank range while they were kneeling.
In recent weeks, SAFTU has condemned excessive police force against students making legitimate demands against financial exclusions, at a time the Treasury attempted to simply cancel government’s 2017 promise of access to higher education by denying NSFAS sufficient funding for incoming first-year students. Unreservedly, SAFTU support the demands by students and the struggle against financial exclusions, and we believe Treasury should come up with the funding rather than Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande scraping the missing R6,8 billion together by defunding worker training programmes and cutting other university spending.
Equally we support all other working-class struggles for improved service delivery in such areas as provision of land, electricity, water and sanitation, housing, decent roads and stormwater drainage, etc. Treasury’s cutbacks to municipal budgets are already evident in the rising discontent, and Eskom’s value system – still gifting massive electricity discounts to the largest Minerals Energy Complex corporations (including South32 and Anglo American) while raising tariffs on ordinary consumers by double digits and then heartlessly disconnecting the masses – must be reversed.
However, as in the case of the Mthatha police who were attacked by students on Monday afternoon, we equally draw attention to the fact that these officers are also members of the working class and trade unions. Although the system has subsumed policing into, first and foremost, protecting the interests of the ruling class, they are workers still, and form part of critical layer of the working class. They are parents and are members of working-class communities and families. It is their children who are the missing middle, and poor, for whom they cannot pay the expensive university tuition.
SAFTU understands that lack of adequate response to the plight of students leads them to resort to adopt desperate measures. Unfortunately, such desperate measures at times has included violence against the police or other symbols of a state that has neglected them. Violence against the police, as well as destruction of public property, can divert attention away from the legitimate demands of working-class students and communities and cause alienation of the protesters from the rest of the society. When that happens, it can be counterproductive.
SAFTU therefore calls on working-class communities to continue to disrupt the workings of an unfair capitalist system, but reconsider methods and avoid violence and destruction of property, even when police are the provocateurs. There is no justification for taking our growing frustrations – with the system of capitalism, with neoliberal state policies, with Treasury’s austerity programme, with gender-based violence and crime – out on the police and state infrastructure that we will need when a good government finally comes to power.
Through revolutionary education, SAFTU is committed to conscientise all sections of the working class, and point out who the true enemy is. Through the South African Policing Union (SAPU), an affiliate of SAFTU, we are already educating the police to understand that “any soldier without ideological training is a potential criminal”. In the same spirit, our progressive trade unions, student formations and the rest of working class formations, must teach their comrades that we are but members of one class, exploited by capitalism in different ways. The goal must be to organise all sections of the working class, the youth, the women and the police, too, for socialist transformation of society.
Noting that Police are killed daily by criminals amidst lawlessness in this country, SAFTU calls on President Cyril Ramaphosa to listen to the calls by SAPU to tighten laws around punishing those involved in police killings. SAFTU is fully behind this call. After all, we expect police to protect us. Their killing amount to defeating the very organs of service delivery from whom security is expected by the public.
We also call on the department of police to implement the policing recommendations outlined in the report on policing and crowd management compiled by a panel of experts recently published by the Minister of Police.