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Protest at Parliament goes ahead after last-minute deal with City of Cape Town

Updated: Oct 4, 2023

BY Mary-Anne Gontsana and Ella Morrison


Social movement #UniteBehind went ahead with a planned protest outside Parliament on Wednesday after a last-minute agreement with the City of Cape Town.


The City had rejected some of the conditions of the protest, which is planned as a three day fast from 20 to 22 September. The protesters are calling on Parliament to dismiss Sfiso Buthelezi, chair of the Standing Committee on Appropriations and the former chairperson of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA).


City spokesperson Luthando Tyhalibongo said #UniteBehind had wanted to erect a marquee, to close Plein Street for three days, to use gas appliances, and to stay overnight. After five failed negotiations with the city, #UniteBehind took the City to court to resolve the matter.


The two parties reached agreement after Judge Gayaat Salie suggested negotiations. “The City’s counsel was really reasonable,” said #UniteBehind leader Zackie Achmat. “We can’t say the same for the City bureaucrats who brought us to this point.”


In terms of the agreement, protesters can put up tents in the the parking lot next to St Mary’s Cathedral, which is opposite Parliament. They agreed not to obstruct traffic between 6am and 9am and again between 3pm and 6pm, and to use amplified sound only between 6am and 8pm.


Achmat said he was happy with the result, saying: “Today, the court vindicated the right of working people to protest in a peaceful manner.”


In April 2023, #UniteBehind took Parliament’s ethics committee to court after they refused to dismiss Buthelezi . Buthelezi later threatened to sue Achmat for defamation, citing a radio interview in which Achmat claimed Buthelezi “benefited from corruption to the tune of at least R120-million”.


Addressing dozens of protesters outside the gates of Parliament on Wednesday, Achmat said corruption was the problem at the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) and the Department of Home Affairs, as well as at PRASA.


“Today is a very serious and sad day,” he said. “Serious because there are people here who are hungry, people who have stood in long SASSA queues.”

Protesters waved posters, placards and flags.


Phelisa Dlangamandla from Gugulethu, said she supported #UniteBehind and the protest because she believed that corruption played a role in the “breakdown of proper services” at the Gugulethu Clinic.


“Our day hospital is not up to standard and it is getting worse. There are always long queues, staff shortages, and complaints about poor service from the clinic staff.”


Lulama Ntende said she used to use trains to get to work but could no longer do so, and struggled to pay taxi fares.


“We want to reclaim Parliament. We want to fix our state.”


GroundUp emailed Buthelezi and Parliament’s media manager to request comment but no response had been received at the time of publication. Comments will be added when they are received.


This article was first published on 20 September 2023, on GroundUp.


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