UJ’s Prof Jane Duncan asks whether SA is a reverting to a repressive state

Professorial Inaugural address: Prof Jane Duncan

Since the Marikana massacre in 2012, several journalists, academics and media commentators have argued that South Africa is reverting to a repressive state. According to Jane Duncan, a Professor in Journalism, Film and Television at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), they have interpreted violence at the hands of the South African Police Service generally, and Marikana specifically, as signs that the post-apartheid social order can no longer be held in check through consent alone.

As she analysed how the coercive capacities of the state are shifting away from overt repression towards less visible, more pre-emptive forms of repression, Prof Duncan argued that South Africa is unlikely to descend into full-blow repression, as the state does not have the capacity to repress on a broader scale when she delivered her inaugural address in the Council Chambers, Madibeng Building, Auckland Park Kingsway Campus on Monday, 13 June 2016.

“As a result, there are unlikely to be more Marikanas in the sense of an organised, armed assault​ on protestors, although the possibility cannot be ruled out that state violence could occur as an unplanned reaction to particular events,” said Prof Duncan.

She pointed out that while there are clear and well-acknowledged legal limits on the state’s ability to use violence, the political limits, and more specifically the limits imposed by popular agency, are less well-acknowledged.

“This is because repression is often studied as a static structural factor constraining movement activities, but not as a factor that is changed dynamically through interactions between state structures and popular agency. Arguably, the social and political conditions that would allow the state to use ongoing (as opposed to sporadic) violence, do not exist in this current conjuncture, as the balance of power is shifting gradually towards popular movements outside the hegemonic bloc. No matter how powerful the men and women with guns seem, there are important signs that they are actually quite vulnerable,” she said.

Before joining UJ, Prof Duncan held the Chair in Media and Information Society in the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University, which was her first academic post. She was also co-Director of the Highway Africa Centre.

She comes from a civil society background and worked for the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) for fifteen years, and was its Executive Director for eight of those years. It was during this time that her interest in freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and the right to protest developed. She managed the process of the FXI establishing itself as a law clinic. Through FXI, she was involved in several cases that were to define freedom of expression jurisprudence. The FXI also provided funding for a Constitutional Court case that legalised the establishment of trade unions in the military, and as a Law Clinic, it has defended the free expression and association rights of many social and trade union movements. During her time at the FXI, she undertook advocacy in Parliament on several laws, including the Broadcasting Bill, Broadcasting Amendment Bill, Media Development and Diversity Agency Bill, Independent Communications Authority of South Africa Bill, Independent Communications Authority of South Africa Amendment Bill, the Film and Publications Bill and the Film and Publications Amendment Bill.

Before joining the FXI, she worked in the community art centre movement, firstly at the African Institute for Art at the Funda Centre in Soweto, and then at the Afrika Cultural Centre in Newtown.

She is a member of the Right 2 Know Campaign (R2K), and involved in its work on secrecy and securitisation, the right to protest and media freedom. She also represented Higher Education South Africa at public hearings held by Parliament’s National Council of Provinces, on the implications of the Protection of State Information Bill (or the ‘Secrecy Bill’) for academic freedom.

Together with Professors Julie Reid and Viola Milton, she is founder of the Media Policy and Democracy Project (MPDP), a joint initiative of her current Department and the Department of Communication Science at the University of South Africa. The MPDP was established to encourage participatory media and communications policy. In its three years of existence, it has conducted research that has impacted on policy discussions around press transformation and accountability; media diversity; ICT policy and communications surveillance and privacy. The MPDP works closely with R2K, and she has represented both organisations in Parliament and various other public fora. Most recently, she represented the R2K, the Association for Progressive Communications and the London-based Privacy International at a United Nations Human Rights Committee hearing in Geneva on South Africa’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and presented concerns about the South African government’s communications surveillance law and practices.

Her research interests have been shaped by her work in civil society, and her research work is both informed by and informs activist work. She is also involved in collaborative research activities with a worldwide network of privacy advocates, established by Privacy International. She has undertaken research on the problems of consolidating a democracy and forming a mediated public sphere in one of the most unequal countries in the world. Recently, she has focused on the relationships between surveillance, power and social control in a country such as South Africa. She has examined how national security practices are changing state/ society relations and impacting on spaces for political expression, especially dissent and the right to protest. She is author of ‘The Rise of the Securocrats: the Case of South Africa’, published by Jacana Media in 2014, and later this year, UKZN Press will be publishing her new book called ‘Protest Nation: the Right to Protest in South Africa’.

To read Jane Duncan’s Professorial Inaugural address entitled Is South Africa reverting to a repressive state?


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