by Peter Alexander, Mail & Guardian, 13 April 2012
On March 19, Minister of Police Nathi Mthetwa
informed Parliament of the number of "crowd management incidents" that
occurred during the three years from April 1 2009. Table 1 compares the
new data with similar statistics for the preceding five years.
In 2010-2011 there was a record number of crowd-management incidents
(unrest and peaceful) and the final data for 2011-2012 are likely to
show an even higher figure. Already, the number of gatherings involving
unrest was higher in 2011-2012 than any previous year. During the past
three years, 2009 to 2012, there has been an average of 2.9 unrest
incidents a day. This is an increase of 40% over the average of 2.1
unrest incidents a day recorded for 2004-2009.
The statistics show that what has been called the "rebellion of the
poor" has intensified over the past three years. In 2010, the minister
of police said "the Incident Regulation Information System classifies
incidents either as crowd management (peaceful), during which the
incident is managed in cooperation with the convenor and the police only
monitor the gathering, or as crowd management (unrest), during which
the police need to intervene to make arrests or need to use force when
there is a risk to safety or possible damage to property".
"Gatherings" may be sporting activities, for example, but the majority
are related to protests of some kind. During 2007-2008 to 2009-2010,
"the most common reason for conducting crowd management (peaceful)
gatherings was labour-related demands for increases in salary or wages".
For the same period, the most common reason for "crowd management
(unrest) was related to service delivery issues". The minister's new
statement does not include similar information for 2010-2012.
According to the minister's 2010 statement, the average number of
participants in gatherings defined as "crowd management (peaceful)" was
500 for 2007-2008 and 4 000 for 2008-2009, and the average number in
those defined as "crowd management (unrest)" was 3 000 for 2007-2008 and
4 000 for 2008-2009. In the new statement, the minister declined to put
a figure on the number of participants.
For the first time, the minister was asked to state the number of
arrests that had occurred with crowd management (unrest) gatherings.
These were given as 4 883 (2009-2010), 4 680 (2010-2011), 2967 (April 1
2011 to March 5 2012). These figures give the average number of arrests
per unrest gathering as, respectively, 4.8 (2009-2010), 4.8 (2010-2011)
and 2.7 (2011-2012).
Table 2 is based on a breakdown of crowd-management incidents in each
province as provided in the 2010 and 2012 ministerial statements. These
figures -- and the data in general -- do not necessarily give a precise
indication of the number of incidents. There can be administrative
weaknesses and human error. Nevertheless, they probably provide
reasonably reliable approximations. Gauteng had the largest number of
peaceful incidents and the largest number of unrest incidents, but it
also has the largest population, so it is not surprising.
Table 2 also compares numbers of incidents with size of population, as
estimated by Statistics South Africa for 2011. We need to add the rider
that figures are for numbers of gatherings and these can vary in size.
Yet, when we take population into account, North West and the Northern
Cape come out on top. Because it is likely that most of the peaceful
incidents are related to labour protests and many are sporting events,
the unrest incidents are probably more pertinent as a gauge of the scale
of service-delivery protests in particular and the rebellion of the
poor in general.
It is notable that the three poorer provinces, which are also the most
rural -- Limpopo, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal -- have a lower
propensity towards unrest incidents than other provinces. The
implication, reflected in other studies, is that the rebellion cannot be
explained in terms of poverty as such. It is mainly a movement within
urban areas, but within those areas most participants and leaders can be
regarded as poor and a high proportion come from informal settlements,
where services are especially weak.
The main conclusion to be drawn from the latest police statistics is
that service-delivery protests continue unabated. Government attempts to
improve service delivery have not been sufficient to assuage the
frustration and anger of poor people in South Africa. From press reports
and our own research, it is clear that although service-delivery
demands provide the principal focus for unrest incidents, many other
issues are being raised, notably a lack of jobs.
As many commentators and activists now accept, service-delivery protests
are part of a broader "rebellion of the poor". This rebellion is
massive. I have not yet found any other country where there is a similar
level of ongoing urban unrest.
South Africa can reasonably be described as the "protest capital of the
world". It also has the highest levels of inequality and unemployment of
any major country and it is not unreasonable to assume that the
rebellion is, to a large degree, a consequence of these phenomena.
There is no basis for assuming that the rebellion will subside unless
the government is far more effective in channelling resources to the