CAPE TOWN: On Tuesday Social Justice Coalition (SJC) will be appearing before the Constitutional Court arguing for an amendment to the Gatherings Act. FIle Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency.
Cape Town - Civil rights advocacy groups are calling for a change in the Regulation of Gatherings Act (RGA) saying the criminalisation of protest will intimidate people from challenging the government and raising social issues.

On Tuesday Social Justice Coalition (SJC) will be appearing before the Constitutional Court arguing for an amendment.

This follows a landmark Western Cape High Court ruling delivered by Judge Thandazwa Ndita early this year, where she overturned the conviction of 10 SJC members who were found guilty of convening an illegal protest at the Civic Centre back in 2013. At the time the group was calling for the mayor to fix sanitation in the Site C informal settlement and threatened they would not leave.

In her judgment Nditha said: “The criminalisation of a gathering of more than 15 people on the basis that no notice was given violates the constitution, as it deters people from exercising their fundamental constitutional right to assemble peacefully unarmed. In my judgment, the limitation is not reasonable and justifiable in an open democratic society, based on the values of freedom, dignity and equality.”

The minister of police has appealed against this judgment. A joint press briefing by SJC, Equal Education, Right2Know Campaign and Reclaim the City saw a re-enactment of the 2013 protest.

About 15 members stood in front of the steps with a chain holding them together.

They held placards, which said “I am not a criminal”, and sang Struggle songs.

Xoliswa Mbadlisa, 52, one of the convicted protesters said, “I don’t have a criminal record because I stole something. I have this bad record because I was fighting for development in the BT informal settlement in Site C, Khayelitsha. “If we succeed this victory will not be for the SJC only, it will be for all South Africans.”

Zingisa Mrwebi, who was also convicted for the same crime, said: “People who have issues that they want the government to take up, will fear a criminal record.”

The SJC’s Axolile Notywala said: “Criminalisation is an extreme limit on our rights and should not be used to incentivise compliance with the RGA. We will continue to fight for our democratic rights, and hope the ConCourt will uphold the high court judgment.”


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Cape Argus