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Protesters head to high court over fees charged to protest in Johannesburg

- Lee-Anne Bruce

CALS and the Right2Protest Project are assisting the Right2Know Campaign and the Gauteng Housing Crisis Committee in challenging fees charged for protests

On Monday 25 April, the High Court is set to hear a matter which challenges the practice of requesting a fee from protest convenors in the City of Johannesburg. The applicants, represented by the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, argue that charging a fee to exercise the rights guaranteed in section 17 of the Constitution is unlawful and unconstitutional.

Next Monday, the High Court in Johannesburg is set to hear an application brought by the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) on behalf of the Right2Know Campaign, the Gauteng Housing Crisis Committee and community leader Keith Duarte. The application challenges the practice of the City of Johannesburg enforced by the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD) of charging the convenors of protests a fee to “allow” them to exercise their right to protest. The South African Human Rights Commission last week applied to intervene in the matter as a friend of the court, supporting the position that protests should be free of charge.

The right to protest is enshrined in section 17 of the Constitution, which guarantees everyone the right to assemble, demonstrate, picket and present petitions. Public demonstrations are further governed by the Regulations of Gatherings Act, which acknowledges that every person has the right to express their views in public and to enjoy the protection of the state when doing so. Nowhere in this legislation is there a requirement for a fee to be paid in order to exercise the constitutional right to protest or to be protected by the state while exercising this right.

The Right2Know Campaign and the Gauteng Housing Crisis Committee regularly organise protests in Johannesburg and engage in the process of notifying the municipality as prescribed by law. In their experience, both the City of Johannesburg and the JMPD insist that paying a fee is a necessary pre-condition to organising a protest. They have been informed on several occasions that if the fee is not paid and their protest continues, it would be deemed “unlawful” and there would be a limited police presence. CALS has therefore approached the High Court to challenge this practice on behalf of these organisations. We are represented by advocate Mluleki Marongo.

The fees charged by the City can range from R172 for a picket convened by a civil society organisation to R15,000 for a strike organised by a union. Many of those who seek to exercise their right to protest cannot afford to pay even a “nominal” fee. Marches are often the last resort of people who are trying to draw attention to injustice or to demand basic services. The absence of law enforcement at a protest action can have chilling effects, giving the impression that the gathering is “illegal” and putting protesters at risk of being harmed by motor vehicles and criminal elements that infiltrate gatherings.

“Protest is an important tool for any member of the public to make themselves heard on the issues that affect them – from service delivery to gender-based violence to climate change,” says Sithuthukile Mkhize, head of the Civil and Political Justice programme at CALS. “Neither our Constitution nor the legislation governing gatherings authorise the state to charge a fee to exercise the right to protest. This fee is discriminatory and we hope the Court will rule it is invalid and unconstitutional.”

The matter will be heard virtually by the High Court in Johannesburg on 25 April 2022 from 10:00

Read our papers in the matter here

From the Centre for Applied Legal Studies: 

For inquiries, please contact:

From the Right2Protest Project:

From the Right2Know Campaign: