We shouldn’t have to apply to protest, say activists

| Barbara Maregele
Photo by Juliette Garms.

Right2Know campaign members and other civil organisation leaders held a picket outside the Civic Centre today calling for the City of Cape Town to respect their right to protest.

Right2Know has said that municipalities often use the Regulation of Gatherings Act as a tool to “undermine people’s right to protest and assemble freely.”

Sections of the Regulation of Gatherings Act 205 of 1993 have already been challenged on several occasions by various civil rights groups in recent months.

In September 2013, a group of 21 Social Justice Coalition (SJC) members were arrested because they did not inform officials about their protest and were convicted for contravening the Act. On 9 July this year, the Cape Town Magistrates’ Court granted 10 of the SJC members leave to appeal to a higher court to determine the constitutionality of the Gatherings Act.

According to Chapter Two, Section 17 of the Bill of Rights, “Everyone has the right, peacefully and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket and to present petitions”.

But Chapter 1 of the Gatherings Act states that the convener of a picket or march with 15 or more people is required to “give notice in writing” no later than seven days in advance.

The picket, which formed part of “International Right to Know Day” followed a workshop on the application for public gatherings, hosted by the City in July 2015.

During the workshop, leaders of civil organisations and religious groups demanded answers to several questions. The City promised to respond in writing a month later, but did not.

The City also gave a list of requirements needed when applying for permission for a public gathering.]

On Monday, the group of about 50 people held up banners and posters which read “We have the right to protest” while members of the group voiced their opinions about the law.

R2KProtest2-20150928-Juliette-20150928.jpgZackie Achmat told the protestors, “We call on all civil organisations to join our fight because it will be for everyone.” Photo by Juliette Garms.

Zackie Achmat, founder of Ndifuna Ukwazi and co-founder of the Treatment Action Campaign, told the protestors, “It is our constitutional right to protest.” Achmat, who was part of the SJC group arrested in 2013, said they will be taking the matter to a higher court to have all criminal records for protesting scrapped. “There is a stigma when you have a criminal record. How are you meant to get a job? We want these records for peaceful protests to be scrapped. We call on all civil organisations to join our fight because it will be for everyone,” he said.

Right2Know member, Mhlobo Gunguluzi from Gugulethu said while groups and organisations should notify the City of their intention to protest, it should not be up to the City to authorise the gathering. “They [the City] say that we have the right to protest, but when we want to have one, we have to fill out an application form. We should just give them a call to notify them, and not have to ask permission,” he said.

Gunguluzi said that Right2Know planned to intensify pickets and marches should the City chose to ignore its demands.

By the time this story needed to be filed, no one from the City had come to address the protesters.

TOPICS:  Civil Society Government Human Rights

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