Freedom of assembly and democracy in South Africa

Hanekom, Eduhahn Luke (2019-04)

Thesis (LLM)--Stellenbosch University, 2019.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT : In apartheid-era South Africa protests were a mechanism through which the dispossessed and marginalised could challenge their exclusion. These characteristically confrontational and violent protests influenced the framework adopted to regulate demonstrations during the democratic transition and in the new constitutional dispensation, namely the Regulation of Gatherings Act 205 of 1993 (“Gatherings Act”). In the new constitutional dispensation the right to assemble and demonstrate is guaranteed in section 17 of the Constitution. South Africa has been labelled the “protest capital of the world”. Protests are a regular occurrence and are a vital part of democratic participation and dissent. This is because the people, on whose will government is based, need an avenue outside of existing institutions to form and express their views and show their dissent. The question arises as to how certain types of dissent fit within different conceptions of democracy. This thesis attempts to determine whether and to what extent different understandings of democracy allow us to make sense of the nature and importance of protest action. The thesis examines the regulatory framework of the Gatherings Act, with reference to its implementation by the executive and state administration. It also examines case law in which section 17 of the Constitution has been interpreted. It argues that some of the provisions of the Gatherings Act, the implementation of the Act by the executive, and some court judgments reveal an impoverished understanding of democracy and unduly limit the rights of the citizenry to participate and dissent. The thesis examines various conceptions of democracy. It argues that, while the institutional models of representative, participatory and deliberative democracy may help to illuminate certain aspects of freedom of assembly, they do not adequately address the inherent tensions in democracy which are illustrated in contentious and disruptive protests. Representative models of democracy tend to offer a restrictive view which assumes that the will of the people is identical to the decisions of representatives, and minimises the role of participation beyond and between elections. Participatory and deliberative models of democracy attempt to eliminate tensions and conflict by creating a platform for a possible rational consensus. These models place a great deal of reliance on the power of representatives to establish spaces for democratic interaction. Disruptive protests are extra-institutional forms of democratic participation. This type of extra-institutional politics can be linked to the model of agonistic pluralism. Rather than attempting to eliminate and exclude conflict from democratic thought, it recognises that these conflicts are fundamental to democracy. The thesis argues that this model could help enable an understanding of protest action which recognises the centrality of protests to democracy and transformation under the South African Constitution.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING : Tydens die apartsheidsera in Suid-Afrika was protesaksie 'n meganisme waardeur diegene wat deur apartheid benadeel en gemarginaliseer is, hul uitsluiting kon uitdaag. Hierdie konfronterende en gewelddadige proteste het ‘n invloed gehad op die raamwerk wat aanvaar is om betogings tydens die demokratiese oorgang en in die nuwe grondwetlike bedeling te reguleer, naamlik die Wet op die Regulering van Byeenkomste 205 van 1993 ("Byeenkomstewet"). In die nuwe grondwetlike bedeling word die reg om te vergader en te betoog in artikel 17 van die Grondwet gewaarborg. Suid-Afrika word gebrandmerk as die "protes hoofstad van die wêreld”. Protes is ‘n gereelde verskynsel en is 'n noodsaaklike deel van demokratiese deelname en meningsverskil. Dit is omdat die burgers, op wie se wil die regering gebaseer is, 'n meganisme buite die bestaande instellings benodig om hul standpunte te lug en om uitdrukking te gee aan hul meningsverskille. Die vraag ontstaan hoe sekere tipes protes binne verskillende opvattings van demokrasie inpas. Hierdie tesis poog om te bepaal of, en in watter mate verskillende begrippe van demokrasie ons toelaat om sin te maak van die aard en belangrikheid van protesaksie. Die tesis ondersoek die regulerende raamwerk van die Byeenkomstewet, met verwysing na die implementering van die Wet deur die uitvoerende gesag en staatsadministrasie. Dit ondersoek ook regspraak waarin artikel 17 van die Grondwet uitgelê word. Die tesis voer aan dat sommige van die bepalings van die Byeenkomstewet, die implementering van die Wet deur die uitvoerende gesag, en sommige van die hofuitsprake op ʼn verarmde opvatting van demokrasie berus en die regte van burgers om deel te neem en te verskil, te veel beperk. Die tesis ondersoek verskillende opvattings van demokrasie. Dit argumenteer dat, alhoewel die institusionele modelle van verteenwoordigende, deelnemende en oorlegplegende (deliberatiewe) demokrasie kan help om sekere aspekte van vryheid van vergadering te belig, dit nie die inherente spanning van demokrasie, wat deur ontwrigtende en omstrede proteste geïllustreer word, voldoende aanspreek nie. Verteenwoordigende modelle van demokrasie bied 'n beperkende siening wat aanvaar dat die wil van die mense identies is aan die besluite van die verteenwoordigers, en wat die rol van deelname na en tussen verkiesings verminder. Deelnemende en deliberatiewe modelle van demokrasie poog om spanning en konflik uit te skakel deur 'n platform te skep vir 'n moontlike rasionele konsensus. Hierdie modelle maak grootliks staat op die mag van verteenwoordigers om hierdie ruimtes te vestig. Ontwrigtende proteste is buite-institusionele vorme van demokratiese deelname. Hierdie tipe buite-institusionele politiek kan gekoppel word aan die model van agonistiese pluralisme. In plaas daarvan om konflik uit demokratiese denke uit te skakel, erken dit dat hierdie konflikte fundamenteel is vir demokrasie. Die tesis voer aan dat hierdie model ’n begrip van protesaksie kan daarstel, wat beklemtoon dat protes sentraal staan tot demokrasie en transformasie ingevolge die Suid-Afrikaanse Grondwet.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/105822
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