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Measuring public violence is complicated by the difficulty of developing a suitable definition that adequately describes the phenomenon in all its various forms. Moreover, the nature of public violence can shift or expand, with, for example, a protest starting over inadequate housing but resulting in attacks on foreign-owned shopkeepers. Research also shows that inappropriate actions by state and non-state actors can escalate tensions and result in violence.71 Without an improvement in the understanding of the extent, nature and dynamics of different forms of public violence, it will be difficult to develop and implement effective strategies or responses that result in sustainable reductions.
Certain steps can be taken to improve responses to the challenge of addressing public violence in South Africa:
Efforts should focus on collaboration and analysis by all role players to establish a common understanding of the meaning of ‘violence’ during crowd events. This process should include the development of a shared and objective definition of ‘violence’ during crowd events.
A national information-gathering system should be established. It could be similar to the peace monitor system that existed during the first years of democracy. This emanated from the signing of the national Peace Accord72 and the election Monitoring Services73 once managed by the now defunct institute for democracy in Africa.
Further research is required to examine the inter-relatedness of various forms of public violence and the triggers that can lead to these forms of violence. For example, the triggers for xenophobic attacks need to be interrogated, as well as whether these can be identified and addressed before their resulting in physical violence.
Mechanisms for the notification of public marches or protests should be user friendly and permission should be encouraged, unless rational and clear reasons for denial are given and discussed. the research shows that the notification processes provide an opportunity for organizers, municipalities and the police to open dialogue that could minimize the occurrence of violence during public events
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