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Practice of requesting fee from Joburg protesters to be challenged in court

25 April 2022

Pretoria - The practice of requesting a fee from protesters in the City of Johannesburg will be challenged in the Johannesburg High Court tomorrow.

The applicants, represented by the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (Cals), will argue that charging a fee to exercise the rights guaranteed in the Constitution is unlawful and unconstitutional.

The application is brought on behalf of the Right2Know Campaign, the Gauteng Housing Crisis Committee and community leader Keith Duarte.

The application challenges the practice of the City of Johannesburg enforced by the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD) for charging the conveners of protests a fee to “allow” them to exercise their rights.

The SA Human Rights Commission last week applied to intervene in the matter as a friend of the court, supporting the position that protests should be free of charge.

They say the right to protest is enshrined in section 17 of the Constitution, which guarantees everyone the right to assemble, demonstrate, picket and present petitions.

Public demonstrations are further governed by the Regulations of Gatherings Act, which acknowledges that every person has the right to express their views in public and to enjoy the protection of the state when doing so.

It will be argued that nowhere in this legislation is there a requirement for a fee to be paid in order to exercise the constitutional right to protest or to be protected by the state while exercising this right.

The Right2Know Campaign and the Gauteng Housing Crisis Committee regularly organise protests in Johannesburg and engage in the process of notifying the municipality as prescribed by law.

They say in court papers that in their experience, both the City of Johannesburg and the JMPD insist that paying a fee is a necessary pre-condition.

According to the applicants, they have been informed on several occasions that if the fee is not paid and their protest continues, it would be deemed “unlawful” and there would be a limited police presence. Cals has therefore approached the court to challenge this practice on behalf of these organisations.

They said the fees charged by the City can range from R172 for a picket convened by a civil society organisation to R15 000 for a strike organised by a union.

It is stated in court papers that many of those who seek to exercise their right to protest cannot afford to pay even a “nominal” fee.

Cals said marcheswere often the last resort of people trying to draw attention to injustice or to demand basic services.

“The absence of law enforcement at a protest action can have chilling effects, giving the impression that the gathering is ‘illegal’ and putting protesters at risk of being harmed by motor vehicles and criminal elements that infiltrate gatherings,” Sithuthukile Mkhize, head of the Civil and Political Justice programme at Cals said.

Mkhize added that protesting was an important tool for any member of the public to make themselves heard on issues that affect them – from service delivery to gender-based violence to climate change.

“Neither our Constitution nor the legislation governing gatherings authorise the state to charge a fee to exercise the right to protest. This fee is discriminatory and we hope the court will rule it is invalid and unconstitutional,” Mkhize said.

Source: Pretoria News

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