African countries struggle to manage dissent – Ramaphosa

African News Agency (ANA)

African countries needed to pay attention to how they handle dissent and dissatisfaction as democracies develop across the continent, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Thursday.

Ramaphosa was speaking at the 20th anniversary symposium of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) held in Johannesburg.

“The right to peaceful protest, to freedom of association, freedom of expression are fundamental pillars of a democratic society. Yet many countries – South Africa included – often struggle to manage the tension between the militant exercise of these rights and the maintenance of the rule of law and the protection of life and property,” said Ramaphosa.

“Democracy thrives when there is space for dissent, but the manner in which that dissent is expressed should not undermine the very principles on which the democratic order is built.”

He said the ongoing protests by university students in South Africa showed the strength and vibrancy of the country’s democracy. However, there was a minority within the protesters who were involved in the violence of destruction of property.

“There are some who have, in vigorous pursuit of their own rights, infringed upon the rights and dignity of others. The manner in which a society resolves these conflicts, how it manages these tensions, how it navigates the line between dissent and disorder says much about the depth and resilience of its democracy.”

Student protests, that started a month ago, continue unabated across the country’s universities as thousands abandoned classes calling for free higher education. Attempts by universities to salvage what remained of the 2016 academic year has been met with disruptions and destruction of property. Running battles between the police and protesters has continued across campuses.

This week acting national police commissioner, Lt-Gen Khomotso Phahlane, said 567 people have been arrested during the protests for free education in 265 cases over the last eight months.

Ramaphosa said he believed that a “sustainable solution” over the funding impasse would be found.

“In this instance, on the challenges we are facing at our universities, I am certain that an acceptable, sustainable solution will be found and that, in the process, South Africa’s democratic values and practices will be further enhanced.”

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SOURCEAfrican News Agency (ANA)