CFE STANDS BY SERI AND JOINS THE GREATER CIVIL SOCIETY SECTOR IN
DEMANDING ACTION AGAINST THE THREAT TO CIVIC SPACE IN SOUTH AFRICA
The Campaign for Free Expression (CFE) joins the rest of the CSO sector in condemning the
incitement of violence by the City of Joburg’s MMC, Nkululeko Mbundu. Last week, MMC Mbundu
went on a Twitter rampage, calling out the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI)
for legally challenging his operation Buya Mthetho which he launched in July to “reclaim public
spaces”. Through the operation, hundreds of informal traders were left with no means of survival
after they were forcibly removed from their stalls in what Mbundu claims is a bid to “restore order”
to Joburg’s inner city. SERI took the matter to court on behalf of the informal traders and won the
case. What is concerning to us, as an organization that fights for free speech for all, are the threats
of violence issued against SERI and the informal traders group South African Informal Traders
Forum (SAITF), and what that represents for our democracy as a nation.
SERI has since temporarily closed its offices after images and contact details of its staff members
were circulated on social media following Mbundu’s Twitter thread. Not only did MMC Mbundu’s
actions lead to a violation of SERI staff’s right to privacy, but they also placed them in harm’s way.
Mbundu’s followers were calling for SERI staff to be “lynched” among other acts of hate, and for
their offices to be burnt down.
Non-profit organizations and the civil society sector at large must be able to operate without fear
of victimization. A healthy civil society is what makes a healthy democracy as civil society
organizations serve to supplement governments’ efforts and to hold governments accountable,
together with the people. Mbundu should have practiced self-restraint as a person holding public
office, as his utterances on a public platform have the potential to influence public opinion and
CFE adds its weight to the voices calling on Mbundu to be held accountable for his negligent
utterances. Should anything happen to SERI staff or anyone with a connection to this case,
Mbundu, his party ActionSA, and the City of Johannesburg must be held accountable. The City
of Johannesburg must issue a warning to Mbundu for his actions. Failure to do this would endorse
the sentiments that he aired on the social media platform. ActionSA has come out in full support
of Mbundu and has denied any wrongdoing on Mbundu’s part. They in fact sought to validate his
actions by basing them on his right to the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of
expression. However, Action SA and Mbundu must be reminded that it is an abuse of free speech
to claim incitements to violence are protected and acceptable.
For inquiries contact: Anton Harber, CFE Executive Director, Cell: +27833039497