Johannesburg - If leaders did their jobs and listened to the people they served, protests would not escalate to the point where security services needed to step in, State Security Minister David Mahlobo said on Monday.
South Africa’s violent history had made protests a norm for citizens, he said at a seminar hosted by the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, under the theme “Can state intelligence help prevent violent protests?”
Since the start of Fees Must Fall protests to demand free higher education, violence had reached a point where national security services were brought in.
“We have seen untold levels of violence. Surely this cannot be accepted?
“If someone burns a school, that will be felt for many generations to come. We already don’t have as many universities as we need.”
Mahlobo said protesting students were raising genuine and important concerns, and the country should rally behind them as it was a matter of national interest.
Mahlobo said the main reason behind any major protest was almost always a lack of communication and action on the part of a leader.
“Before we have security problems, we have governance problems.
“If there is proper communication with the people and government, security services would not need to be called in,” he said.
Mahlobo said South Africans were generally peace-loving people. When protests escalated and became violent, it was usually due to “rogue elements” operating within groups raising genuine concerns through protest.
“They are raising issues, but those in government must respond to those issues in time.”
University of Johannesburg Professor Jane Duncan said the security personnel deployed to deal with student protests were making matters worse.
“We shouldn’t rush to label these threats as national security threats. Are we at that stage? I would argue that no argument has been made that we are.”
She said crime intelligence, rather than state intelligence, should investigate protests. Treating violence on campus as a national security matter would only add fuel to the fire.
The State Security Agency needed to do more to convince the public that it was working in their best interests.
“It has taken secrecy to unimaginable extremes. The public can’t be expected to trust the State Security Agency when its rules are not known,” she said.