Durban - A Durban environmental group is launching an urgent high court application this morning to allow 500 people to hold a peaceful placard demonstration outside the Vodacom Durban July horse race at Greyville racecourse on Saturday.
The eThekwini city manager, S’bu Sithole, banned the placard demo, apparently on the basis that the city had not been given sufficient notice under the apartheid-era Regulation of Gatherings Act of 1993.
The South Durban Community Environmental Alliance - which hopes to raise its voice against the Gold Circle racing group for selling Clairwood racecourse to a transport logistics company - said it submitted a letter to the metro police on Monday notifying the city of its intention to protest against the destruction of Clairwood racecourse.
The alliance said the destruction of one of the last “green lung” areas in the South Durban area would increase pollution and traffic levels for the benefit of industry, to the detriment of local residents.
Rejecting the advance notice, Sithole said the alliance had failed to comply with the notice time frames required under the act. But he promised to assist the alliance to hold a gathering “on an alternate date”.
Represented by Legal Resources Centre attorney Anneline Turpin, the alliance denied that it required a permit to hold a gathering, as the constitution allowed anyone “the right peacefully and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket and to present petitions”.
Even so, co-ordinator Desmond D’Sa said in court papers that a fresh letter was sent to Sithole on Tuesday advising him why the alliance had only been able to submit its application one day later than the seven-day notice period set under the act.
D’Sa also noted that the responsible officer was only permitted to ban the gathering if less than 48 hours’ notice was provided.
The alliance had also notified Sithole that it would go to the high court to overturn the ban and prevent the city from disrupting or preventing the gathering.
In his court papers, D’Sa said buses had already been booked to take 500 demonstrators and 50 marshals to the Durban July - a date it had chosen strategically to ensure “national and international coverage” for its demonstration.
The court papers also indicate that at least two senior metro police officials - a Superintendent Myeza and “project executive” Nhlanhla Mthethwa - both refused to accept an amended gatherings notice submitted by the alliance earlier this week.
Mthethwa has advised a Legal Resources Centre official that the notice would only be accepted if it was delivered first to Sithole.
The legal official said he returned to the metro police offices later the same day after serving a notice on Sithole - but Myeza still refused to accept it and told him that she had “no authority and did not want to end up in trouble with her superior for overstepping her authority”.
The city had not responded to requests for comment at the time of publishing.
In his court affidavit, D’Sa stated that Gold Circle had profited from the sale of Clairwood racecourse to the Capital Property Fund and that this would have the effect of further industrialising the South Durban area.
Gold Circle said it sold Clairwood to Capital Property Fund in 2012 at a time when it was zoned as “Open Green Space” by the municipality.
After purchase, the Capital group applied to the city for it to be rezoned for other purposes.
“Gold Circle was never involved and had nothing to do with the rezoning of the property,” said chief executive Michel Nairac.