Right to protest comes with responsibilities

Friday, January 31, 2014

Pretoria - Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa has slammed violent protests in the country, saying although the public has a Constitutional right to protest and raise issues, which they were not content with, those rights come with responsibilities.

"We recognise people will protest as long as we live in a democracy. However, as we have seen on many occasions, many protests have been accompanied by serious provocations, intimidations, violence and even elements of criminality," he said.

Speaking at a conference for commanders responsible for public order management on Friday, Mthethwa said some public protests start peacefully but turn violent because leaders in the communities do not listen and communicate with people on the ground.

"When a service is not delivered, SAPS members are not there to deliver the services...it is the municipalities’ duty to. Ours is to maintain law and order."

Mthethwa's comments come at a time when police brutality is in the spotlight following the deaths of protesters in the past weeks.

At least four men died during a service delivery protest in Mothutlung in the North West.

In another incident, three people, including a 15–year–old boy, were allegedly shot dead by police during a protest in Bolobedu, in Limpopo province.

Another protester was also killed in Roodepoort's Durban Deep.

The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) is investigating the matters.

“As a nation, collectively as organizers and police, we need to work together to prevent the repeat of the kind of clashes and events, which we witnessed …These events are not what we want to see or want to become accustomed to, in a democracy that is bound by the rule of law,” the minister said.  

Mthethwa said organisers of protests had to ensure that no weapons were carried. They also needed to apply for the right to protest with local police before embarking on protests.

"If protests are peaceful and non-violent, there would essentially be no need for police presence," he said, appealing for the strikers to cooperate with the police during the protest.

Police training challenges

Some segments of the society have questioned the training curriculum, particularly when it comes to some of the violent public protests.

However, police training has always been benchmarked with best international practices.

However, they do acknowledge that training must be on-going and that police must only use force which is proportionally necessary to maintain peace.

“We have seen unusual things transpiring during the latest service delivery protests with violent clashes between  police and protestors…We have also seen that some policemen may have difficulty in understanding the prescripts when it comes to protests,” National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega said.

Professionalising the police

With the election period approaching, Phiyega said it was necessary to look at how the police work towards professionalising itself.

“We need members who have respect for the country's Constitution and people… We want professionalism in policing, members who follow Public Order Policing Regulations,” she said, adding that the conference was planned well before the recent weeks’ fatal protests.

This is in addition to the improving police networks within communities while changing the future of public order policing. “We need to engage communities to ensure there's consent on how we deliver our services to meet communities' needs.”

The conference will train and  coordinate public order policing standards, common national standards which should be streamlined, and Human Rights in policing around public protest, among others. - SAnews.gov.za