Cape Town – The South African government’s counter-extremism strategy as outlined by South African Minister of State Security David Mahlobo statements in his recent Parliamentary speech has a higher likelihood of pushing people towards political violence rather than countering it, and poses a danger to civil society.

Mr Mahlobo claimed that ‘growing numbers of South Africans’ were joining ‘terrorist organisations’ without providing any proof for this claim or identifying the alleged ‘terrorist organisations’. This creates a broad catch-all for a variety of legitimate aid and community-based organisations to be criminalised. In fact, the vast majority of South Africans travelling to Syria do so to join various aid efforts or to settle there.

He also identified ‘ideology’ as the root cause of ‘terrorism’, when in fact the reasons for individuals turning to political violence are far more complex. Identifying ‘ideology’ as the enemy sets a dangerous precedent where the government focusses on ideas and behaviours as signs of ‘extremism’. This effectively turns the authorities into thought police. It fosters a society where certain ideas and conversations are criminalised, and where Muslims are stigmatised.

This pushes unpopular ideas underground where they grow unmitigated by open debate, increasing the likelihood that individuals will turn to political violence.

Karen Jayes of CAGE Africa, said:

“The global counter-extremism strategy, which the South African government is clearly following, is founded on principles that have no empirical basis and, according to the UN, they can pose a real danger to human rights and civil society.” “Instead of focussing on ideology, which is dangerous, what is rather needed is open and forthright debate about the real issues that have pushed the few individuals to political violence, namely local socio-economic concerns, US-UK foreign policy in the Middle East, and the ongoing securitised response to Muslim communities in Europe which is fostering fear and resentment.”

“There is good level of trust between Muslim communities and the South African government. This needs to be maintained, instead of taking an approach that erodes trust and creates animosity, especially when directed at young people. A securitised response in counter-terrorism will not stop individuals from being drawn to political violence. In fact, all evidence points to the fact that it only encourages more ‘radical’ behaviour.”


(CC image courtesy of GovernmentZA on Flikr); Left to right, Minister of State Security David Mahlobo meeting President of Angola Josѐ Eduardo Dos Santos along with President Zuma.

(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)