Frequency and turmoil: South Africa's community protests 2005-2017

  • Peter Alexander University of Johannesburg
  • Carin Runciman University of Johannesburg
  • Trevor Ngwane University of Johannesburg
  • Boikanyo Moloto University of Johannesburg
  • Kgothatso Mokgele University of Johannesburg
  • Nicole Van Staden University of Johannesburg


This article reports on the frequency and turmoil of South Africa’s community protests from 2005 to 2017, which, taken together, have been called a ‘rebellion’. It defines ‘community protest’ as protests in which collective demands are raised by a geographically defined and identified ‘community’ that frames its demands in support/and or defence of that community. It distinguishes between ‘violence’ and ‘disorder’, which has produced a novel three-way categorisation of turmoil, namely ‘orderly’, ‘disruptive’ and ‘violent’ protests. Drawing on the Centre for Social Change’s archive of media reports, the largest database of its kind, and by comparing its data with details gleaned from the police’s Incident Registration Information System (an unrivalled source of protest statistics), the article reveals a rising trend in frequency of community protests and a tendency towards those protests being disorderly, that is, disruptive and/or violent. In the process of advancing this position, the authors offer a critique of other attempts to measure the number and turmoil of community protests.

Author Biographies

Peter Alexander, University of Johannesburg
Director, Centre for Social Change and South African Research Chair in Social Change
Carin Runciman, University of Johannesburg
Senior Researcher, Centre for Social Change
Trevor Ngwane, University of Johannesburg
Senior Researcher, University of Johannesburg
Boikanyo Moloto, University of Johannesburg
Senior Research Assistant, Centre for Social Change
Kgothatso Mokgele, University of Johannesburg
Senior Research Assistant, Centre for Social Change
Nicole Van Staden, University of Johannesburg
Research Assistant, Centre for Social Change


Jane Duncan, Protest Nation: the Right to Protest in South Africa, Pietermaritzburg: University of Kwa-Zulu Natal Press, 2016;

Tom Lodge and Shauna Mottiar, South Africa’s ‘unrest’ or ‘rebellion’: a focus on Durban, in Marcel Paret, Carin Runciman and Luke Sinwell (eds) Southern Resistance in Critical Perspective, London and New York: Routledge, 2017;

Setlulego Matebesi, Civil strife against local governance: dynamics of community protests in contemporary South Africa, Leverkusen: Barbara Budrich;

Marcel Paret, Violence and Democracy in South Africa’s Community Protests, Review of Political Economy 42(143) (2015);

Lizette Lancaster, ‘At the Heart of Discontent: Measuring Public Violence in South Africa’ ISS Paper 292, May 2016;

Ruud Koopmans and Dieter Rucht, Protest Event Analysis, in Bert Klandermans and Suzanne Staggenborg (eds)

Methods of Social Movement Research, 2002;

Charles Tilly, Explaining Social Processes. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2008.

Donatella della Porta, Social Movements in Times of Austerity, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2016;

Isabel Ortiz, World Protests, 2006-2013, New York: Initiative for Policy Dialogue, 2013.

Carol Paton, Protests not always about municpalities’ ‘service deliveries’, Business Day, 17 March 2014, 3.

T.C. Chigwata, M. O’Donovan and D.M. Powell, Civic Protests and Local Government in South Africa Working Paper Series No. 2: The Civic Protests Barometer 2007-2016, Cape Town: Dullah Omar Institute, University of the Western Cape, 2017, 13.

Marcel Paret, Violence and democracy in South Africa's community protests, Review of African Political Economy 42(143) (2015).

ACLED, Home Page, (accessed 12 September 2017).

ACLED, Methodology, (accessed 12 September);

ACLED website (accessed 12 September); Chigwata, O’Donovan and Powell, Civic Protests, 5-7; Municipal IQ, Press release, 16 May 2017. The CPB starts in 2007.

South African Police Service, Annual Report, Pretoria: SAPS, 2014 and 2016.

Research articles