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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Protesters face sedition charges

Rapule Tabane
20 May 2005 08:00

Barricades block exits from Intabezwe near Harrismith. (Photograph: Julian Rademeyer)

Thirteen Harrismith residents allegedly involved in last year's protest against their local council face sedition charges.

Several lawyers described the charge as "very serious", adding that it could carry a minimum sentence of 15 years under the Criminal Procedures Act. The charge has prompted complaints that the state is out to intimidate protesters. The Harrismith upheavals centred on claims of poor municipal service delivery.

At a briefing of senior journalists in Johannesburg this week Minister of Intelligence Ronnie Kasrils warned against the exploitation of service-delivery grievances to further secret agendas, while Minister of Provincial and Local Government Sydney Mufamadi insisted that the Free State residents were the biggest beneficiaries of local government service provision.

The 13 accused plan to approach human-rights organisations, including the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) and Amnesty International, to help them defend what they consider disproportionately heavy charges.

In September last year residents led marches on the local municipality and barricaded streets to protest against their council's alleged delivery failures. Police shot dead one of the demonstrators.

The unrest was the first in a string of demonstrations in Free State towns that embarrassed municipalities and provincial and national government.

One of the accused, Thulani Mabanga, said they believed there was a political motive behind the sedition charges, as their protests were not intended to overthrow the government. "All the residents did was to burn tyres and march. Then police started shooting without warning. The police have no evidence of any wrongdoing by the protesters," Mabanga said. The National Prosecutions Authority (NPA) has confirmed the police officers implicated in the killing of a protester would be charged with murder and assault.

A lawyer for the 13 confirmed that they were being charged with sedition and public violence. The NPA said it was still finalising the charges, but added that police had investigated a provisional charge of sedition.

The accused are out on R500 bail each and are due to appear in the Harrismith Magistrate's Court in August.

Kasrils said the intelligence agencies would investigate whether elements were taking advantage of public dissatisfaction to foment disrespect for the law. If groups were repeatedly involved in breaking the law and it appeared to be their agenda, the agencies were obliged to keep an eye on them.

Mufamadi this week told Parliament that the Free State had the highest percentage of households with access to free basic water and electricity - 90% and 91% respectively.

The FXI's Zakes Hlatswayo said his organisation was helping the accused with their defence. "Our suspicion is that the state is trying to intimidate other people from taking to the streets by pressing these serious charges. It is difficult to justify the public violence charge, let alone sedition."

Another accused, Sam Radebe, claimed the government had placed the accused under surveillance "because it suspected they were being used by some third force such as the Boeremag or the Democratic Alliance".

"These were genuine community concerns, and instead of tackling corruption in local government, the government is pursuing us. They are constantly checking who we meet with," Radebe said.

The charges were later withdrawn

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