South Africa’s Constitutional Court recently reversed a regulation criminalizing protests of more than 15 people without giving prior notification to the authorities.
The issue was addressed by court magistrates as one where the right to assembly was being curtailed, “deterrence by its very nature limits the exercise of this right,” declared Judge Thandazwa Ndita, from Cape Town Magistrate’s Court.
The Regulation of Gatherings Act (No. 205 of 1993) established the obligation and the procedure required to carry out protests by 15 or more people.
“South Africa’s pre-constitutional era was replete with draconian legislation that, in an attempt to preserve the apartheid political order, punished people for assembling when it did not suit the state,” according to Judge Xola Peste.
Ten activists from the Social Justice Coalition (SJC) were arrested in 2013, for “peacefully picketing for sanitation” at the Cape Town Civic Centre, according to the IOL independent media outfit.
“It is a victory for the poor, the often forgotten and those who hold real power in this country. Now that power must be realized through activating this right to protest without fear of being criminalized by the state,” said SJC’s general secretary, Axolile Notywala.
The legal battle which leads to the Court ruling ensued in 2015 when SJC activists chained themselves to the railings of the Civic Centre in Cape Town.