Union 'not liable' for all protest damage

2012-02-09 16:27

Johannesburg - If the necessary steps were taken to prevent harm during public protests, the organisers should not be held solely liable for damage, the Constitutional Court heard on Thursday.

Arguing an application by the SA Transport and Allied Workers' Union (Satawu), for leave to appeal an earlier judgment on damages, Wim Trengove said the law set out that liability was premised on reasonable steps being taken to avoid unforeseeable harm.

He told the court that "reasonable" by its nature, could never be inclusive of all the risk attached to a protest. The nature of a protest was to air grievances, and it was a confrontational and often explosive act.

Cape Town march

Satawu went to the Constitutional Court to challenge a recent ruling that held it responsible for damages caused during a march in Cape Town. The ruling was upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeal.

Satawu contends that parts of the legislation regarding the wording regarding freedom of assembly is unconstitutional.

Trengove questioned whether a protest against racism through the town of Ventersdorp should be cancelled - a violation of the right to protest - if there was a direct physical threat from members of rightwing organisations.

He said a union could bring in more people to maintain calm and also rely on police support, but it could not absolutely promise that the march would remain peaceful.

"Sometimes... despite reasonable steps... the threat of harm remains," Trengove asserted.

He conceded that a union was liable in some instances where it acted unlawfully, however this could not be the case where it did not "knowingly cause" harm.

"The union is not at fault, the perpetrators are... the legislation is poorly and sloppily drafted," he said.

Undue responsibility on organisers

The union, being supported by the Congress of SA Trade Unions, feels the legislation imposes undue responsibility on the organisers of a gathering. It holds that this is undemocratic in that it limits protest, which is often the only way people can make their voices heard. It argues that organisers will be too afraid to organise a gathering for fear of consequences over which they have no control.

The City of Cape Town joined the matter as an intervening party. It supports the eight respondents, who include street vendors, shop owners and car owners.

The Freedom of Expression Institute was admitted as a friend of the Court.

  • dave.leverton - 2012-02-09 16:42

    Which part of 'don't damage anything and you won't be responsible for damages' is too difficult to understand ? How about a couple of us protest at your house, throw bricks through your windows then tell you we won't pay to replace them !

      Silver - 2012-02-09 17:43

      I like the way you think Dave.

      Louis - 2012-02-10 07:16

      Dave these ring gears don't understand the alphabet let alone your long sentences. Take note their lawyers are white, just like most of the anc cadres phycians.

      eric.vanvuuren - 2012-02-10 07:25

      Freedom of expression is all good and well but, if you want to toy-toy, then go and do it in your own neighbourhoods, or there were your leaders live. If it is necessary to break something, then break your own things. Or destroy govt. property; do not harass hard working tax payers.

  • Shirley - 2012-02-09 16:42

    Haha..they cannot be held responsible??? You cant be serious! What steps do you take to prevent a bunch of uncouth,hysterical idiots who are hellbent on destroying builings,cars,stalls and everything else in their path? The mob mentality allowed and incited by the unions is their responsibility but as per usual,like with all else in South Africa-feel free to break,damage and destroy and blame someone else!

  • StarStruck - 2012-02-09 16:45

    Let me just try to understand this. If my shop is trashed and looted during protests I can't hold the organisers liable? These unions are sitting on a high horse, unbelievable.

      Shirley - 2012-02-09 16:48

      Yes you should have seen the witch doctor the night before,got some of the muti that you rub on that the shop would be invisible-then they wouldnt have seen it so no damage!

  • ISO - 2012-02-09 16:51

    Clearly a union out of control!

  • Hugh - 2012-02-09 17:15

    Remove all cars and street vendors prior to a march and they will look for something to smash! String up a few piƱatas from the lamp posts and fill them with sweeties.

  • rickvcooper - 2012-02-09 17:25

    Yeah - sure! The Union bosses only want to be able to rile the 'wekka's' up, and then sit back and watch the carnage. You have to bear responsibility, unions, you are often the cause of the violence and damage that arises during strikes and demonstrations, by way of incitement. I have read some of the drivel that you pump into the empty heads of your members - you can't expect anything other than a rampage to follow.

      Shirley - 2012-02-09 17:27

      You know the old saying-"empty vessels make the most noise" and cause the most damage.

  • bradleybrits - 2012-02-09 17:33

    Dear Unionist retards, Nobody is trying to stop you from protesting and venting your anger. This can include running around shouting, holding posters and singing songs. You or your fellow protesters however may not at any stage use violence against any other member of the public, damage private or public property (including trashing of streets etc). If any actions are taken which cost any money to restore the public environment to its "pre-strike" condition should be charged with you. Your strikers are your responsibility and it is up to you to educate them on what is acceptable to do while on a protest. This is what you get paid to do. Which part of this do you not understand so that we may get it translated into one of the 11 official languages or the newest 12th official language, retardish. Regards, society.

  • Xavier7034 - 2012-02-09 17:49

    It brings to mind: 'The law is an ass!"

  • errol.wagner - 2012-02-09 18:26

    When will we realize that one of the major causes of our problems in SA [indeed in the West] is that no one is responsible, we have raised a population of irresponsible people - and we wonder why there is such moral corruption - and then we have the lunitics who want to stop parents disciplining their children - a sure sign of the foolishness of a man-centred worlld view.

  • Henri James Christie - 2012-02-09 20:04

    Make the union organising the march put down a substantial deposit with ??? And if any damages, however small or large, deduct from their deposit. No accountability, no respect. The unions can attempt to recover their lost money from their members. Sounds easy but not in SA

  • pws69 - 2012-02-09 23:56

    "It holds that this is undemocratic in that it limits protest, which is often the only way people can make their voices heard." Because the dumb ANC nuts you vote for don't listen, you retards. Vote for someone else then. Sheesh, it is not that hard.

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