Lawyering protest: critique and creativity. Where to from here in the public interest legal sector?

Lisa Chamberlain, Gina Snyman


Frequent protests arising from a diversity of motivations are a feature of the South African landscape. Despite the right to protest being entrenched in section 17 of the Constitution, it is under threat, and communities seeking to protest increasingly risk criminalisation. This article identifies some of the emerging themes in the protest landscape and the manner in which the right to protest is being suppressed. Four dominant themes are highlighted through the lens of the experiences of the public interest legal sector, being: the conflation of notification and permission; heavy-handed state responses to protests; the abuse of bail procedures; and the use of interdicts. Law has therefore become at least one of the sites of contestation in the protest arena. The political space held open by the existence of the right to protest is thus closing as a result of violations of this right.  It is therefore both useful and necessary to interrogate the role of lawyers in such contestation. This article also examines the context and nature of the public interest legal sector’s response to these emerging themes.


protests; right to protest; student protests; community protests; use of interdicts; bail in protests; Regulation of Gatherings Act

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