Cape Town - Twenty-one members of the Social Justice Coalition pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to contravening the Regulations of Gatherings Act (RGA) outside the Cape Town civic centre last year.

Around fifteen of them had chained themselves to railings at the centre's entrance stairs on September 11 last year while the remainder held placards, sang, and supported those who were chained.

They had wanted to speak to mayor Patricia de Lille in person about their frustration at the city's perceived inaction over proper sanitation in informal settlements.

After numerous warnings to disperse, police cut the chains and arrested the group as well as those standing on the side.

They were charged with convening a gathering or alternatively, convening or attending a gathering, in contravention of the RGA.

The group appeared in the Cape Town Magistrate's Court on Wednesday for plea and trial.

In their affidavit, the accused admitted they convened and/or attended a gathering of around 20 people and that they did not give the city notice of this gathering.

Their lawyer Michael Bishop argued that the RGA did not prohibit attending a gathering for which notice had not been given.

Bishop said the called-upon sections of the act were inconsistent with the Constitution in that it criminalised failure to give notice of a gathering.

“The accused will argue that criminalising peaceful, unarmed gatherings merely because no notice was given is unconstitutional,” their affidavit read.

State witness Noel da Silva testified that he had been responsible at the time for administering the RGA on behalf of the city.

He said no one contacted him or gave notice that a gathering would take place, which is usually required a week beforehand.

Bishop confirmed that people were not required to apply to the city to convene.

“I agree with you that there is no application process per se,” Da Silva answered.

Bishop asked why the city had a permit process then.

“It is a clear misnomer which should be addressed,” Da Silva said.