ConCourt judgment a step forward for activists, but Joburg still has ‘protest fees’

In South Africa, the unanimous ConCourt ruling found section 12(1)(a) of the Regulation of Gatherings Act unconstitutional. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

In South Africa, the unanimous ConCourt ruling found section 12(1)(a) of the Regulation of Gatherings Act unconstitutional. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

The debate on whether or not protests fees must be charged is happening in two places in the world: on the steps of the White House and in the City of Johannesburg.

For the last five years, the Right2Know (R2K) campaign has challenged the implementation of a city by-law for special events that has seen organisations being charged a fee to protest.

A Constitutional Court judgment may set a precedent in the fight against so-called protest fees. The judgment ruled that the failure to give notice of a protest should not be made a criminal offence.

The fees, JMPD spokesperson Tessa Adams told News 24, are a compulsory part of the municipality’s policies. She explained that they form part of a tariff policy based on the number of police officers needed during a protest.

On Friday, the R2K handed a memorandum of demands at the office of the mayor to address this issue. It addressed the demands to Mayor Herman Mashaba, speaker of the Johannesburg city council Vasco da Gama and Joburg metro police chief David Tembe. 

In the memorandum, R2K requested the city to address the application of the “special event costing” in the Public Open Spaces by-laws to gatherings convened in terms of the Regulation of Gatherings Acts, and address the JMPD’s gathering procedures. 

The mayor’s office has promised to respond within two weeks.

In order to hold Friday’s protest, the campaign’s spokesperson Murray Hunter said the Joburg metro wanted R2K to pay R446 for “planning costs”.

The fact that organisations have to pay to protest in Johannesburg, Hunter says, is a “major violation of free speech.”

On the other side of the Atlantic, President Trump’s administration drafted a policy in August that would not only close 6m of the more than 7m wide pavements surrounding the White House but charge “event management” costs for demonstrations, the Guardian reported.

The charges include payment for additional law enforcement, repair and maintenance for the general surroundings and the cost of erecting barriers for the demonstration.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a civil liberties activist group, has said that the proposal could make demonstrations — such as Martin Luther King Jr’s 1963 march on Washington where he gave the “I had a dream speech” — costly, preventing demonstrations from happening.

ConCourt ruling precedent on protests

In South Africa, the unanimous ConCourt ruling found section 12(1)(a) of the Regulation of Gatherings Act unconstitutional.

The Act regulates protests, stipulating that municipalities must be given a week’s notice before the protest.

Section 12(1)(a) of the act had also required that organisers of gatherings of more than 15 people have to give notice of their protest, without this notice, a peaceful protest could be deemed a criminal offence.

The court has left the decision to amend the Act to Parliament.

In a statement released on Monday, Social Justice Coalition said this section of the Act was a “disproportionate punishment” and in conflict with section 27 of the Constitution, the right to freedom of assembly.

READ MORE: ConCourt judgment affirms right to protest without permission

“Ordinarily, a lack of resources or an increase in costs on its own cannot justify a limitation of a constitutional right. The reason for attaching less weight to a lack of resources as a purpose for limiting rights is beyond question,” the ruling read.

“Respecting, promoting, and fulfilling human rights comes at a cost, and that cost is the price the Constitution mandates the State to bear.”

Gemma Ritchie

Gemma Ritchie

Gemma Ritchie works in the Mail & Guardian's online department. She majored in English Literature at a small liberal arts college in the USA.  Read more from Gemma Ritchie

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