Johannesburg - A number of organisations welcomed a Constitutional Court ruling holding trade union Satawu liable for a riot damage claim.
The SA Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Sacci) said on
Thursday that unions should be financially responsible for damage
caused during protests.
"Sacci members have experienced the consequences of
inappropriate behaviour during strike action... and as such... feel
strongly that the right to protest must be balanced against responsible
behaviour and property rights," Sacci chief executive Neren Rau said in a
"In the current economic circumstances, restoration of
property damaged by protest action is a cost that neither the public nor
private sector can afford."
Earlier, the United Association of SA (Uasa) said the
ruling against the SA Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) would
ensure accountability among unions.
"At Uasa, strict discipline is a priority, especially
during strike action," the trade union's spokesperson André Venter said in a
"We realise that literally anything can happen in such a
volatile situation and that emotions can easily get out of hand. For
this reason we ensure that our marshals are properly briefed and
equipped to ensure discipline among the crowd."
The ruling was welcomed by Business Unity SA on Wednesday.
"This provides legal certainty to business in cases
where public gatherings become destructive and result in injury, loss of
property or life," it said in a statement.
The ruling was also hailed by Cape Town mayor Patricia
de Lille, while the Democratic Alliance called the ruling a "massive
"For too long, Cosatu (the Congress of SA Trade Unions)
and its affiliates have been allowed to engage in violent and chaotic
strikes without any repercussions," DA MP Ian Ollis said in a statement.
However, the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) expressed disappointment at the ruling.
"The FXI is (however) encouraged that the judgment
recognises the importance of the right to assemble, by stating that the
right to freedom of assembly is central to our democracy."
The court ruled on Wednesday that Satawu was
responsible for damages caused during a march by security guards in Cape
Town, in May 2006.
It found the Regulation of Gatherings Act afforded
victims effective recourse when a gathering became destructive and
resulted in injury, loss of property, or life.
"The organisations are intimately involved in the
planning, supervision, and execution of the gathering, but the potential
victims are not," Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng said in the ruling.
"Because of this, the organisations would be in a
better position than innocent victims to identify individuals or
institutions which caused the damage."
He said the union had the opportunity of a "soft
landing" if it could track down those responsible for the damage caused
during the protest and recoup its loss from them.
The union appealed twice against the decision and was turned down on both occasions.