Pitching For The Right To Protest For Free — NGOs Take On Government.. The Right2Know Campaign and the Gauteng Housing Crisis Committee will go head to head with authorities in the Johannesburg high court on Monday to challenge the “fees” authorities charge them for protest action.
The organisations are being represented by the Centre for Applied Legal Studies when they take on the City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality and the chief of the Johannesburg metropolitan police department.
In their heads of argument, the applicants claim their application is to have “the law, regulation or resolution of requesting a fee from conveners of protests by the City of Johannesburg” declared unlawful and invalid.
They said those who most need to protest to have their voices heard are often indigent and therefore unable to pay any kind of fee to exercise their constitutional right to protest or demand the basic services that are also their right.
The organisations claim their case stems back to October 23 2020 when some members held a protest in the Johannesburg central business district. However, before the time, they were instructed to pay R297 to the council for approval of the protest. The convener was informed if he refused to pay, the protest would be deemed unlawful and no law enforcement agents would be present on the day.
The fees charged range from R172 for a picket organised by civil society organisation Sonke Gender Justice to R15,000 for a workers’ march convened by the National Union of Metalworkers of SA.
The organisations claim the fees are not sanctioned by The Gatherings Act.
They said the fees deny the rights of protesters to enjoy protection by the state while exercising their rights to protest. This is because “section 17 of the Constitution provides for everyone’s right to assemble, demonstrate, picket and present petitions in a peaceful and unarmed manner”.
They argue that the municipality’s counter claim that it is entitled to charge is without merit.
The rule about fees to stage protests, they said, “ is not in the Municipal Systems Act. It is in the City of Johannesburg Tariff Determination Policy “adopted by the City of Johannesburg’s Municipal Council by means of a resolution”.
“(The respondents) have not shown why a municipal council resolution is a law of general application. They have not explained why the purpose of the limitation cannot be achieved by other means —higher municipal rates for affluent areas, a complete exemption from the protest fee for those who are poor and vulnerable but slightly higher fees for those who can afford (cross-subsidisation), or funding from national government, as a few examples.”