In South Africa we have a constitution and laws that gives us the right to free expression and public protest. But community activist are finding it difficult to exercise this right. Jo Mashilo and Mduduzi Tshabalala report on how traditional leaders block the community from publicly expressing critical views about mining companies and political leaders.
The Chaneng Youth Organisation planned to celebrate Human Rights Day at the local Chaneng Primary School. The Chananeg Kgotla Kgolo,the traditional authority in the area, submitted a letter to the Chanenge primary school principal instructing the principal to deny the Chaneng youth access to the school to hold celebaration.
This action angered the youth and provoked a state of community unrest. The Chaneng youth said in a press statement:
“The act of the traditional leadership was a form of dictatorship and points to the resurfacing of apartheid banning orders. The powers vested on traditional authorities should never be employed as a punishment to scare communities or young people from being full citizens with full human rights as enshrined in the bill of rights in the country’s constitution. “
Although the efforts by the traditional authorities to prevent this event from taking place succeeded, the youth of Chaneng village did not retreat. They went ahead with their meeting on
the 12th of March outside the school premises. At this meeting they resolved to deliver a memorandum of demands to the Chaneng Kgotla Kgolo.
On the 18th of March they marched peacefully to the Chaneng Kgotla Kgolo to deliver their memorandum. They were blocked by the Royal Bafokeng Reaction Force and the South African Police Services. The traditional authorities refused to accept their memorandum. They told the youth that the gathering was illegal and immediately opened a case against the marchers with the South African Police Services.
The youth did not give up. They wanted answers to the demands in their memorandum. They assembled yet again at the Kgotla Kgolo offices on the 25th of March.
In their memorandum they raised the issue of being denied access to holding a meeting in the nearby public school along with other burning issues. They said that there were many cases when people in the mining villages were prevented by traditional authorities from expressing their views in regard to irresponsible mining practices in the Rustenburg area.
The Chaneng youth vowed to continue to demand their rights which are suppressed by the traditional authorities.
A Rustenburg community leader, Thusi Rapoo, who is the secretary for the Bofokeng Land Buyers Association (BLBA), said that the Chaneng incident is not the only one.
“There has been many problems in getting authorisation from municipalities to do a public protest in the Rustenburg area. In villages were there are traditional leaders, the community is forced to obtain permission from the from them for any pubic action they wished to take.”
Henk Smith, an attorney working full time for the Legal Resources Centre, said that the actions of the traditional leaders appear to be violating the law of the country. He explained
“ Chapter Two of the South African constitution guarantees everyone the rights to freedom of assembly and expression. This is made clear in the Gatherings Act . Protestors have to follow the procedures in the law and the authorities can not unreasonably deny them the right to protest. Traditional leaders who are recognised by customary law, have a duty to respect the constitution as the supreme law in the Country. “
The struggle of the youth of the platinum mining village of Chaneng is the struggle of youth across the country. Big business , traditional leaders and government officials often combine to block our voices when we seek to expose their destructive actions. We have rights in the law .We must understand the law and use it to build our power.