We are outraged at the plan for the City of Durban to purchase militarised vehicles to deal with protests by the people of the Durban. This marks an alarming and unacceptable escalation of the local state's increasingly repressive and intolerant response.
The protest actions themselves highlight the deep crises and challenges that we need to be facing together as a community with compassion and inclusion. What is needed is respect for the concerns, freedoms and dignity of the people. What is needed is the effective and immediate deployment of skills focused on listening, on peaceful negotiations and inclusive dialogue. What is needed is to seriously address the root causes of inequality, exclusion, patronage, elite indifference and arrogance that lie behind people's protest actions.
What the city bosses of Durban have signaled through their plan to buy militarised “riot control” hardware is the almost certainly delusional and dangerous idea that problems will be dealt with through repression and thuggery in defense of the status quo. It's delusional because of course it will not stop the people asserting their humanity, demanding fairness and refusing to accept injustice. It's dangerous because already too many of our people are being hurt, bullied and even killed by the already heavy-handed responses to legitimate and democratic protests.
Buying these vehicles would be entirely wrong. Stopping the purchase would at least provide a moment for the city as a whole to reflect on what the plan has already revealed about our capacity and approach for dealing with the profound challenges we must tackle together. We simply must insist on a new and very different path going forward - a path that respects and involves those who suffer and resist injustice.
We agree with Sbu Zikode, the president of the South African shack dwellers' movement Abahlali baseMjondolo who has said that “This is nothing but an insult on democracy. Clearly we have no leadership here when we have people who rather than negotiate peacefully resort to arming themselves... We are asking ourselves whether the deaths of the landless and the poor are not enough. Many people have been killed without such militarisation. Will it not get worse? However, no amount of militarisation, guns or war machinery will stop the landless” (quoted in http://www.iol.co.za/news/city-defends-move-to-purchase-casspirs-amid-outcry-10009620).
We can and must stop the plan from proceeding in Durban – and we have the opportunity to do so because the vehicles have not been bought yet. But we know that this increasingly militarised mode of dealing with popular protest is a much broader trend, both in South Africa and around the world. The broader trend reflects how, in an increasingly unequal and unjust world, those who defend the system are driven to more and more violent and authoritarian methods to hold it together and to beat back popular forces of justice and protest. The consequences for all of us are dehumanising and unjust. We note that already, in our own country, the cities of Tshwane and Johannesburg have spent public money in the last couple of years buying militarised vehicles for responding to protest actions. Tshwane got three Nyala armoured security vehicles at a cost of R2.3-million each and Johannesburg recently purchased two militarised crowd control vehicles (with 2 more to come) - the latter are “fitted with crowd control equipment that includes a less-lethal grenade launcher, night vision camera and acoustic device that can broadcast pre-recorded audio messages or disorient people”(see: http://www.defenceweb.co.za/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=48385:denel-to-deliver-four-casspir-armoured-vehicles-to-ethekwini-municipality&catid=50:Land&Itemid=105).
Issued by : Revd Ian Booth, Chairperson, Diakonia Council of Churches &
Graham Philpott, Director, Church Land Programme
30 June 2017