PRESS STATEMENT | LHR welcomes dismissal of criminal case used to stifle protest and labour rights

Date: 14/06/2022

On 14 June 2022, the Johannesburg Central Magistrate’s Court dismissed criminal charges of public violence against seven workers represented by Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR). The workers, who are former Pikitup employees, were exercising their right to protest in relation to a labour dispute when they were arrested on 7 March 2018.

The incident leading to the arrest of the seven workers is the culmination of years of unsuccessful engagement with the leadership of Pikitup and the City of Johannesburg over an ongoing labour dispute. On 1 February 2018, roughly 800 workers, employed under temporary employment contracts, marched to the Pikitup Offices to hand over a memorandum to concerning whether they would be absorbed as permanent employees. On 7 March 2018, the workers gathered again to hear feedback from their worker representatives on the dispute, after a meeting with Pikitup leadership. However, the scheduled meeting could not proceed because the Managing Director of Pikitup and the mayor of Johannesburg refused to attend the meeting. The workers were then dispersed by Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD) officers.

At the same time, two other groups of workers were protesting in Braamfontein – one of which was being monitored by a separate team of JMPD officers. This group attempted to set a rubbish bin alight. To disperse the crowd, the JMPD officers fired stun grenades and rubber bullets and began making arrests. The seven former Pikitup workers were caught in the fray, arrested at random, and charged with public violence, despite not being a part of this group.

LHR represented the seven workers in the criminal case against them. The Court assessed whether the JMPD officers had given sufficient evidence to prove that workers were involved in acts of public violence. After the State closed its case, the court held that the State had failed to prove the seven workers’ guilt and the matter was discharged.

Charné Tracey, the LHR attorney leading the matter, said, “We welcome the decision of the court, especially given the importance of the right to protest in South Africa, where protests are a major driving force behind progressive social change. LHR’s experience is that the criminal justice system is often used to stifle the right to protest and victimise human rights defenders, including those exercising their labour rights. We are hopeful that today’s outcome will be a caution to JMPD officers against acting harshly, and that they will instead uphold their duties to safeguard the rights of protestors.” LHR is greatly indebted to Advocate Herman Scholtz for his passion and dedication in arguing this matter.

For further information, contact:

Charné Tracey | Attorney, LHR Strategic Litigation Programme


Tel: 011 339 1960/084 612 0979

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