R2K condemns KZN MEC's comments 'declaring war' on 'illegal' protests

Advocacy group Right2Know (R2K) Campaign has condemned KwaZulu-Natal MEC for community safety and liaison Mxolisi Kaunda's comments in which he "declared a war" on "illegal" protests. 

"In a country where there is growing dissent and lack of accountability, protest action is one of the very few ways in which marginalised communities can hold the government accountable," R2K said in a statement on Friday. 

The organisation said Kaunda's remarks would only lead to more protests and more conflict.

On Tuesday Kaunda said the province had been identified as a hub of "illegal" public protest action.  

He said the police reported that there were more than 530 public protests in the last financial year.

Kaunda added that in the past four months alone, more than 270 "illegal" protests were reported in KwaZulu-Natal.

"We want to declare a war on protest[s]. As the provincial government, we are saying that individuals who are implicated in these illegal protests in our communities must face the full might of the law. Any person who blocks roads or conducts any criminal act will be charged and prosecuted," Kaunda said. 

'Make it easier for communities to protest'

The advocacy group said his comments failed to address the real issues, including that community members have no access to their councillors or to decent services. 

"The MEC fails to understand that many communities face intimidation when trying to organise marches, and often enough marches are unlawfully banned by the authorities," it said. 

The group noted that Kaunda had suggested that the provincial government would not be visiting communities that initiated protest action to express their grievances. 

"Too often, protest action is the last resort and communities have often exhausted all lines of communication available to them, to no avail.

"If the MEC wants to reduce the number of protests that happen outside of the Gatherings Act, make it easier for communities to protest," it said. 

R2K said it is government officials themselves who go outside of the Gatherings Act to ban protests for made-up reasons. It said this practice needed to end.

"If the MEC wants to declare war on something, declare war on police brutality! Declare war on unconstitutional anti-protest laws! Declare war on councillors and local government who shut communities out of the processes that affect their lives," R2K said. 

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