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Pretoria - The Tshwane metro police had no intention of preventing the Right2Know Campaign (R2K) from protesting at the Seriti Commission of Inquiry, a spokesman said on Thursday.
Superintendent Isaac Mahamba made the remarks outside the High Court in Pretoria after Judge Andre de Vries gave an order allowing the group to protest.
“They had applied to picket on the 3rd and 4th (of June). When we were about to grant them permission they came back to change those dates,” Mahamba said.
“They say they now wanted to picket on the 12th and 13th June. We could not agree on those dates because as the metro police we had committed our resources elsewhere.
“We have another march about to start now and our resources are over-stretched.”
He said following the court ruling, the R2K would be allowed to picket in Sammy Marks Square in central Pretoria.
“We respect the ruling of the court and the picket will go ahead. Remember there are rules and we will hand over those conditions to them,” Mahamba said.
The R2K's attorney, Simon Delaney, however told reporters metro police had kept shifting the goalposts.
“They first said that they were double-booked because another organisation had applied to picket. They then said the inquiry is like a court and we can't picket at court.
“Both excuses were nonsense in terms of the law. We were forced to come to court on an urgent basis. We should have just been allowed to picket since it is our constitutional right.”
De Vries granted the order on Thursday morning after hearing submissions from Lawyers for Human Rights' attorney, acting for the R2K, Patricia Erasmus, and a lawyer for the Tshwane metro.
The order states the campaign is allowed to gather at the entrance to the square, on Helen Joseph (formerly Church) Street.
Tshwane metro police were restricted from interfering with the gathering.
Erasmus argued in court that metro police were flouting the Gatherings Act.
“We did not want to come to court. This is a last resort. We tried to negotiate with the respondents (Tshwane), saying to them 'if we can't picket at the commission, can we picket somewhere else',” said Erasmus.
“The issue of urgency has been occasioned by the respondents, by their unwillingness to negotiate.”
The R2K initially wanted to picket outside the commission probing the controversial 1999 arms deal when former president Thabo Mbeki testifies.
The R2K would now picket on Thursday during former finance minister Trevor Manuel's testimony.
Mbeki was supposed to testify this week, but his mother Epainette died on Saturday. The commission was expected to make an announcement on his testimony.
President Jacob Zuma appointed the commission in 2011 to investigate alleged corruption in the 1999 multi-billion rand deal.
The government acquired, among other hardware, 26 Gripen fighter aircraft and 24 Hawk lead-in fighter trainer aircraft for the air force, and frigates and submarines for the navy.