So.Africa: Legal experts say interdict granted to a group of farmers unjustifiably limits the farm workers’ constitutional rights

Author: Anna Majavu, New Frame (South Africa) , Published on: 20 August 2019

‘Interdict ‘infringes’ on workers’ rights’ 20 August 2019

The high court in April granted commercial farmers in the Eastern Cape an interdict against farm workers and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the area. But it has been described by some of South Africa’s leading constitutional law and freedom of expression experts as an attempt to criminalise social justice activism and muzzle the voices of a working-class community. A group of commercial farmers sought the interdict that effectively bars the Nelson Mandela Bay-based Khanyisa Educational and Development Trust and its director, Simphiwe Dada; the Kouga Farm Workers Reunion; and individual farm workers Buyelwa Kota, Freddie Grootboom, Amelia van Rhyner, Msingathi Mbanda, Granwell Abby James, Lephalo Pentse and Rencia van Sensie from intimidating the farmers or speaking about them to anyone.

…In their founding affidavit, the farmers said they needed an interdict to prevent the NGOs and farm worker groups from “publishing injurious falsehoods about them” and stop them from potentially contacting the buyers of their citrus fruit, which they said would damage the brand’s good name…He claimed that Dada had written and distributed an A4-sized notice, which was prominently displayed in the towns of Hankey and Patensie, making “injurious and defamatory falsehoods” about him that had incited farmworkers to march to the Endulini farm packhouse outside Patensie, near Baviaanskloof, on 2 November last year.

…Some legal experts, however, say that this clause in the interdict effectively bars respondents from ever talking or writing about poor treatment of farm workers on the two farming businesses to anyone, ever again. University of Cape Town constitutional law professor Pierre de Vos says “the prohibition on any communication with any person about the products of the farmer constitutes an unconscionable and unjustifiable limitation on the right to freedom of expression.  “A farmer/businessman, does not have and can never have a right not to have his business, business practices or his products criticised,” he adds, commenting that it was “surprising [that] the interdict had been granted at all … It looks like an attempt to criminalise social justice activism – protecting the economic interests of the powerful while negating the political rights of the activists.” 

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