The Constitution protects the rights of everyone to assemble, demonstrate, picket and present petitions in an unarmed and peaceful manner. The Constitution also provides a number of other options to claim our rights in a peaceful and lawful manner. These include the right to elect representatives who must see to the promotion, protection, respect and fulfilment of rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights; the right to hold those representatives accountable for their failure to do so; and the right to seek legal recourse through the courts. These rights, however, by no means allow for criminal behaviour such as theft, the destruction of property, or the intimidation and assault of other individuals in pursuit of any objective.

Regardless of the grievances people may have, such criminal behaviour by protestors is unacceptable and should be condemned by all South Africans, including the ANC (whose Youth League has, on a number of well reported occasions, called for governance in Cape Town and the Western Cape to be disrupted). However, the ANC’s previous failures to reprimand the ANCYL for its calls to destabilise the Western Cape inevitably raise the question of whether the ANC tacitly supports such statements and threats.

In this recent instance, councillor Nkhola -­ according to press reports -­ threatened to bring Cape Town to a standstill in what he referred to as a bid to get the ear of Premier Helen Zille. In this regard, he was earlier this week quoted by the Daily Sun whilst addressing a gathering at Nyanga’s KTC Hall as having said that “You will not have to go hungry because there are so many places that you can loot in the CBD. The police can’t arrest us all because there will be too many of us”. He allegedly also told that newspaper that “squatters will go to Cape Town and loot if Zille does not receive the memorandum. People who feel they don’t want to be a part of this should stay at home. We are not scared.”

Statements inciting violent and criminal behaviour, or calling for any legitimately and democratically elected government within South Africa to be made “ungovernable”, are irreconcilable with our Constitution and should not be tolerated as acceptable social or political discourse. On the contrary, such statements and criminal acts resulting from those statements should be condemned, denounced and prosecuted, as those involved are undermining the fundamental principles of our constitutional democracy. Allowing such violent and criminal acts to continue without condemnation and with impunity, will not result in socio-­economic rights being realised, but may well endanger our constitutional democracy and the rule of law in South Africa.

By Adv Johan Kruger, Director: Centre for Constitutional Rights