R2K Western Cape is appalled to learn that the City of Cape Town still believes that the public must ‘apply’ to hold protests, rather than merely notify the authorities as stated by the Regulation of Gatherings Act No 205 of 1993.
This emerged during two information sessions on the Gatherings Act that were hosted by the City of Cape Town on Tuesday, 14 July and Wednesday, 15 July 2015. (Update: GroundUp has published a report on these information sessions.)
The information sessions aimed to explain the workings of the Regulation of Gatherings Act, so that organisations and individuals have a greater understanding of the law when it comes to the right to protest. But in some cases, the officials themselves showed a lack of understanding about the law.
City of Cape Town officials, like many municipalities, continue to tell communities that they must ‘apply’ to have a protest, suggesting that authorities can decide whether or not to permit a protest to go ahead.
R2K would like to inform the City of Cape Town that the Gatherings Act does not require people to apply for permission but states that we should notify the relevant authorities.
The Gatherings Act has many limitations, as shown by the recent conviction of Social Justice Coalition members for holding a peaceful protest deemed to be illegal, but you don’t have to ask permission.
Under the Gatherings Act, once you have notified the authorities of your plan to hold a protest, only if the plan raises serious safety risks or will seriously disrupt traffic can the authorities ask protest organisers to a meeting to discuss these. Only if all attempts to negotiate a safe alternative have failed can authorities stop a protest from going ahead, and they must give reasons in writing.
Many things need to change to promote the right to protest, but as a starting point, the City of Cape Town must withdraw its “Application Form” for protests, and put in place the “notice form” that is required by the Regulation of Gatherings Act.
We also note that City officials still seem to think that it is legal to stop protests from happening outside National Key Points. Even the National Key Points Act doesn’t agree with them on that one.
We would encourage everyone including city officials and the police to download our Right2Protest handbook (www.r2k.org.za/protestguide). This pocket-sized publication explains the Regulation of Gatherings Act and aims to help people engage over-zealous officials who act outside the law to suppress our freedom of assembly.
R2K has noted with concern how various municipalities across the country have been suppressing the people’s right to protest by ‘denying permission’ for protests, tabling weak and sometimes outright ridiculous reasoning. Just last month, the R2K Gauteng protested at Johannesburg Metro Police Department, after the metro police started demanding that organisations pay a R140 ‘fee’ to hold a protest, among other bureaucratic hoops that restricted the right to protest.
It is important for all who live and work in South Africa to not only know their rights to freedom of assembly/demonstration/picket/petition but be able to exercise them.
As R2K, we reiterate that the right to organise, protest and speak out is central to all community struggles for social justice. R2K will continue to fight to ensure our democratic right to protest is respected.