Charges dropped against traders’ lawyer

2013-12-06 18:45

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The lawyer for street traders who was arrested yesterday appeared in court today, but walked out without any charges “because the prosecutor refused to prosecute”.

Nomzamo Zondo was arrested yesterday afternoon after police shot rubber bullets and dispersed a group of street traders who had returned to the streets after a significant victory in the Constitutional Court.

Zondo was called to intervene and explain the court order instructing the city to “not interfere” with the traders.

She was arrested for “obstructing the police in their duties” and “inciting traders against police”, but was released on bail shortly before midnight.

She appeared in court today but the prosecutor “couldn’t find an offence with which to charge me”, she told City Press.

Zondo is part of the legal team from the Socio-Economic Rights Institute that has represented street traders displaced by Johannesburg’s Operation Clean Sweep that started in October.

Last week, the South Gauteng High Court struck the matter from the urgent roll without giving reasons.

The Constitutional Court yesterday dealt the city a serious blow by granting the traders an urgent appeal against the high court’s decision.

Not only did it grant all the applicant traders – about 2?000 in total – the right to return to their previous trading spots, it made a punitive cost order against the city. It now has to pay the traders’ legal costs in the Constitutional Court and the high court. And that’s exactly what a few of them did the same afternoon.

However, soon afterwards, the Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) came to remove them again, firing rubber bullets.

JMPD spokesperson Wayne Minnaar said the JMPD was simply enforcing bylaws.

He told City Press that even though the Constitutional Court had allowed the traders to return, this particular group had set up in spaces that had never been demarcated as trading areas.

But Zondo and the traders that City Press spoke to yesterday disputed this.

The stretch of De Villiers Street, where the confrontation had occurred, had been a linear market before Clean Sweep. It has a city-installed metal structure under which legal traders can set up shop.

This is according to a shop owner on the street.

A legal team was inspecting various streets in inner-city Johannesburg today to monitor the situation. According to Zondo, about 800 of their clients have now returned to the streets to trade despite a heavy police presence.

The Constitutional Court judgment could be a serious blow for the Clean Sweep initiative of mayor Parks Tau. The initiative was originally announced as involving several phases.

The city had indicated that the “sweep” of the Johannesburg inner-city traders would be followed by similar operations in Soweto and Orange Farm, as well as a new campaign to clear the city’s hundreds of “bad buildings”, illegally occupied and often hijacked properties for which Joburg is notorious.

The Constitutional Court has only granted interim relief until Clean Sweep can be reviewed in the high court on the normal court roll next year.

The traders who gained from the ruling had argued that Clean Sweep was unlawful because it forced legal and illegal street traders off the streets without following the required processes.

The illegal traders were estimated to outnumber the legal ones two-to-one and have no right to return.

The argument for urgent relief was that the legal traders have all been rendered destitute while the city is still formulating plans to relocate them to possibly less attractive sites in the city.

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