South African Watchdog's New Report Denounces a 'Significant Rise' in 'the Use of Violence by the State'

Statement from the Freedom of Expression Institute

The Anti-Censorship Programme (ACP) of the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) has just released its fourth progress report on the state of freedom of expression in South Africa. In the report, the ACP observes that one of the most striking things about the period under review (April-September) is the significant rise in the number of cases brought to its attention involving the use of violence by the State against peaceful and unarmed demonstrators.

The report cites two such examples to demonstrate this worrying trend: In the first case, sixty members of the Landless People's Movement (LPM) were arrested on election day, April 14 for allegedly engaging in a political activity contrary to the provisions of the Electoral Act (No 73 of 1998).

As the LPM members were preparing themselves to participate in a demonstration for which they had given the required notice, they were violently arrested and held overnight in police cells before being released on bail the following day. What is disconcerting though is that four of the members alleged that while in police custody, they were subjected to acts of physical torture, harassment and intimidation by members of the Crime Intelligence Services who used a variety of means including suffocation by means of rubber tubing, verbal abuse and attempted kidnapping.

In the second case, a high school student Teboho Mkhonza was shot and killed by police in late August as he participated in a peaceful demonstration in the Free State Province town of Harrismith. The demonstrators had engaged in a series of public protests to highlight the lack of delivery of basic services by the local authority and the apparent indifference to their grievances by government officials.

Two other cases are cited in the report; one involved fourteen residents of the community of Mount Moriah in Durban in April, in which the residents were arrested and allegedly physically assaulted by police who declared their gathering to be "illegal". This was despite the fact that the Council had already approved their protest. The second incident relates to a teenager Marcel King, who was shot and killed in June in Phoenix, also in Durban, by private security guards hired by the Durban Municipality. On this occasion, residents had tried to prevent the council from disconnecting their electricity supply and the youth was fatally shot as he came to the aid of his mother who was being harassed by the guards.

A new area of concern noted in the report relates to internet based censorship where big corporations are increasingly threatening to take legal action against satirical websites for "trade mark" infringement. In the one case presented in the report, South Africa's telecommunications giant Telkom threatened to sue the owners of a website dubbed "Hellkom", for five million rand, after the site parodied both the company's name and keypad logo. So far, Telkom is yet to make make good its threat for legal action though the site has continued to attract a great deal of public interest and support.

Furthermore during this period, the ACP has had to intervene as a " friend of the court" in the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) in Bloemfontein in the case brought by South African Breweries (SAB) against Cape Town satirical T-shirt maker Justin Nurse. SAB is suing him for using the words "Black Labour White Guilt" in place of SAB's "Black Label, White Carling Beer" on the T-shirts. FXI intends to pursue the case to the Constitutional Court.

Other matters captured in the report include ACP's campaign for legislative reform, the campaign against the proposed Anti-Terrorism Bill and education and training workshops with community radio stations across the country.

The full report is available on FXI's website:

See also

IFJ Backs Press Freedom Campaign Concern Over “Creeping Censorship” in South Africa

South Africa and the EU: The New State of Emergency (websites)