The high court in Kimberley has dismissed a claim for wrongful arrest and detention by 12 people who were arrested in a protest which turned violent in Kuruman in November 2013. Picture: 123RF/SKYCINEMA
The high court in Kimberley has dismissed a claim for wrongful arrest and detention by 12 people who were arrested in a protest which turned violent in Kuruman in November 2013. Picture: 123RF/SKYCINEMA

The rights to freely assemble, demonstrate, picket and present a petition must be exercised peacefully, and it is only when those convening and participating in a gathering harbour intentions of acting violently that will they forfeit those rights.

The high court in Kimberley made this comment as it dismissed, with costs, a claim for wrongful arrest and detention made by 12 demonstrators who were arrested during a protest that turned violent, in Kuruman in November 2013.

The group of 150 protesters had blocked a road in Kuruman to protest against the employment of people who were not locals at the town's three manganese mines, accusing the mines of overlooking the local community.

One of the protesters who was later arrested addressed the crowd through a loudhailer, saying the road would remain blockaded until the protesters were employed by the local mines.

Later the mob surrounded a police general who had tried to arrange a meeting between the protesters and the mines.

The protesters started to pummel the police with stones. During this commotion, a K9 Unit police vehicle was engulfed in flames.

Eleven protesters were arrested as a result, and the 12th suspect was arrested 10 months later.

The 12 were tried in the Kuruman regional court on a charge of public violence, but successfully applied for their discharge.

In the civil case, the 12 claimed police had no reasonable grounds to arrest them. They dispute that they took part in the protest action or committed any offence in the presence of the police.

Police denied the arrests and detention of the 12 claimants were unlawful, and alleged  the 11 who were arrested on the day committed an offence or offences in the presence of the arresting officers. The 12th was arrested after a warrant of arrest was obtained from a magistrate, police said.

In her judgment on Friday, judge Violet Phatshoane said the 12 were allegedly identified by the respective arresting officers as having being participants in the riotous acts and therefore contravened road traffic legislation on the police watch.

She said it remained for the claimants to rebut this evidence.

"They did not fare well on this score," Phatshoane said.

She said it was significant to note that eight other claimants closed their respective cases without tendering any evidence.

Phatshoane said failure to call a witness who was available and able to give relevant evidence had consequences and may lead to an adverse inference being drawn by the court.

"On the basis of the aforegoing analysis, the police discharged the onus that the arrests of the first to the twelfth plaintiffs fell within the ambit of the statutory provisions and were therefore justified in law," Phatshoane said.

She said the violent conduct displayed during the protest in this case was deserving of disapproval.