South Africa: Security forces must respond to Zuma protests without excessive force

As South African military forces have been deployed today to assist the police to counter violent protests by supporters of former president Jacob Zuma, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) called on authorities to ensure that security forces did not use unnecessary or excessive force against peaceful protesters.

The South African National Defense Forces have been activated to help maintain order in Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal Provinces after two days of violent protests that have descended in some instances into riots and looting. Zuma is serving 15 months in prison for contempt of court due to his refusal to cooperate with an investigation into allegations of corruption.

 “It is crucial to remember that this is a law enforcement challenge, not a military situation, and if military personnel must be involved as a last resort, they are still bound by the requirement that any force must be necessary and proportionate, a principle governing law enforcement officers under international standards and the South African Constitution,” said Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, ICJ’s Africa director.

Section 200(2) of the Constitution requires the South African National Defence Forces (SANDF) to defend and protect the “people in accordance with the Constitution and the principles of international law regulating the use of force”.

“Jacob Zuma and members of his family and his supporters should call on Zuma’s supporters to cease violence, looting and criminality,” said Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh. “As a former President, Jacob Zuma should not aggravate the current situation.”

The protests and looting of facilities have forced the suspension of  COVID-19 vaccinations in some areas, causing a major set-back to South Africa’s already slow  vaccination roll out. Members of the media have experienced harassment, intimidation and violence while covering the protests.

“We call on supporters of former President Zuma to allow the media to operate in safety. The police must  ensure the safety of the media in carrying its constitutional mandate to keep the public informed,” said Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh.


Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, Director Africa Programme,, +27 84 514 8039

Tanveer Jeewa, Legal and Communications Officer,

Press releases