Court hits out at vandalism, not strikers' rights
The ruling by the Constitutional Court on Wednesday that unions are liable for damage caused by their striking members will reshape the way South Africans toyi-toyi to air their grievances.
Reading the majority judgment, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng said organisers of strikes should be at the forefront when property was damaged by strikers.
He said people whose property had been damaged by strikers should not have to look further than the organisers of protest marches for compensation .
He said those who organised the marches would be "in a better position than innocent victims" to identify the individuals or institutions that caused the damage.
"Though the primary liability is imposed on the organisation, a soft landing is availed to it through the possibility of an apportionment of damages, as it is always open to the organisation to track down the perpetrators and recoup its losses from them."
The labour unions yesterday slammed the ruling, saying it would limit the constitutional right of aggrieved workers to protest.
As expected, Cosatu, one of the biggest labour federations, criticised the ruling. Its president, Sdumo Dlamini, said the ruling brought South Africa "closer to a police state" and that union members would now be unable to strike, fearing that they would be sued.
Though some among us might sympathise with the unions - which most of the time are forced to take to the streets to force employers to change their decisions - their members' often violent conduct is objected to by many.
This ruling gives South Africans recourse against the harm or damage to their property they face whenever members of unions or other organisations take to the streets.
The court has not denied the right to protest or march. It merely puts on the organisers the onus to protect bystanders and property. It is time to review the rules of toyi- toyi and set a new standard by which we can register our concerns without wrecking property.