‘Authorities seems to be leveraging the pandemic to suppress dissent’.
First printed in GroundUp.
This month, the Ministry of Cooperative Governance and Conventional Affairs (COGTA) printed up to date rules with amendments to the December and January adjusted alert stage three lockdown.
Numerous measures aimed toward stopping the unfold of Covid-19 had been relaxed, together with bans on gatherings at faith-based establishments. But, there have been no updates to the rules on “political gatherings”, which had been explicitly banned beneath the January rules.
The silence on “political gatherings” means that the ban stays in pressure. A ban on “political gatherings” negatively impacts the constitutional proper to protest as enshrined in part 17 of the Structure.
Many individuals in South Africa nonetheless search to train their proper to assemble peacefully however have been warned towards doing so, citing the present rules.
But, different kinds of gatherings are permitted, for instance as much as 100 folks might congregate at a public swimming pool, the place sporting a face masks is nearly unattainable and bodily distancing could be tough.
On 3 February 2021, the Meals Alliance Union approached the Tshwane Municipality to present discover of a protest when it comes to part 3 of the Regulation of Gatherings Act. The Union supposed to submit a memorandum of calls for to the workplace of the Presidency on the Union Buildings masking their issues in regards to the lockdown provisions which have affected their members’ lives and livelihoods. In a number of phrases, the accountable officer on the municipality wrote again to the convener informing him that “gatherings are nonetheless prohibited” beneath the January rules.
However days later, on 11 February, 50 members of Parliament gathered to take heed to the President ship the State Nation of Tackle (Sona). This was, by all appearances, a “political gathering”. Authorities’s coverage, rules, actions, failure and commitments had been being unpacked. The attendees represented completely different political events.
As soon as once more, on 16 February, quite a few Members of Parliament from varied political events gathered to answer and debate the President’s tackle.
The prohibition of “political gatherings” is illogical and irrational, extra particularly if folks can collect at a public seashore or swimming pool, however are instantly criminalised once they collect to problem the federal government. It ought to actually be a priority when a democratic authorities criminalises a basic proper that folks use as a final resort to precise their views.
The ban on “political gatherings” should be lifted if we’re to correctly mirror the essential tenets of our democracy, notably in mild of part 17 of the Structure.
The prohibition will not be that shocking given the federal government’s historical past of intolerance round protest motion. Typically protesters face arbitrary arrest; many are met with police brutality. Presently, we’re being denied this proper completely. This consists of protests that will give the federal government a clearer thought of what’s taking place on the bottom and what folks want with the intention to assist combat Covid-19.
However the authorities seems to be leveraging the pandemic to suppress dissent. The prohibition on “political gatherings” is shutting folks even additional out of the political decision-making course of within the identify of a worldwide pandemic.
We recognize that the present rules are in place to curb the unfold of Covid-19, however our legal guidelines (even the lockdown rules) should be rational. It’s irrational that 100 folks can collect at out of doors venues for leisure actions, however the identical variety of individuals are prohibited from exercising a constitutionally assured proper to protest.
The Right2Protest Undertaking (R2P) has written to COGTA, requesting it to assessment the present rules to recognise and promote the democratic proper to protest by uplifting the ban on “political gatherings”. DM
Stanley Malematja is the legal professional within the Right2Protest Undertaking primarily based on the Centre for Utilized Authorized Research, Wits College.
Views expressed aren’t essentially these of GroundUp.
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