A de facto state of emergency in Marikana

Mabine Seabe II

Presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj is quoted as saying “There is no question of a state of emergency” in Marikana, after United Democratic Movement president, Bantu Holomisa, in a statement, called for the Government to lift the “undeclared state of emergency” in Marikana. In line with Holomisa’s statement, African People’s Convention president, Hlabirwa Mathume, said “We do not need a state of emergency imposed on us by a democratically elected government.” Are we witnessing South Africa’s first state of emergency since the birth of democratic South Africa?

The official line coming from government is that is that the measures in place are a “law enforcement campaign” in an attempt to “to ensure that the current situation is brought under control”. In my pedestrian opinion, this is a de facto state of emergency.

When one talks about a state of emergency, it is in reference to the state taking various steps to curb unrest by employing certain legislation and sometimes even going to the extent of suspending various human rights. Under a state of emergency, the human rights that are suspended include the freedom of movement and the freedom to assemble, and often the army is deployed. Sound familiar?

Now, why didn’t the government just declare a state of emergency?

Firstly, a state of emergency is seldom used as a means of stabilising a volatile situation, in a democratic country. A state of emergency is seen to be undemocratic and/ or unconstitutional given it limits certain democratic and human rights, as aforementioned. By officially declaring a state of emergency in Marikana, it would bring into question the maturity, stability and strength of South Africa’s highly regarded democracy.

By deploying the army to deal with the civil unrest, points to the seriousness of the situation in Marikana. Army deployment, to deal with a civilian matter, should have set off alarm bells with legal experts.

Secondly, by officially declaring a state of emergency, is Government in effect acknowledging the seriousness of the Marikana situation and its extraordinary nature, which requires special intervention outside of the usual law enforcement application? It would be a case of Government saying ‘an unusual situation requires unusual interventions.’

Only a month into the Marikana saga did Government launch its “law enforcement campaign”. This brings into question how seriously Government was taking what was happening and what intelligence was being used, given that the national executive took just over a month to put measures in place. A member of the national executive is quoted as saying government “thought Marikana was an isolated incident that would blow over.”  With this in mind, it’s clear that government did not have a firm grasp on the Marikana situation, and the only response was a de facto or “undeclared” state of emergency.

This should worry all South Africans. Government has shown its inability to adequately deal with a crisis and in the process, bend the laws. For example, when the army is deployed, the President is supposed to inform parliament. It is unclear if this has in fact been done. 

Should another crisis, of Marikana proportions happen, we hope that government now has systems in place to adequately handle the matter.

Mabine Seabe is a politics student at UNISA and the co-founder and Director of Youth Lab.