student protest - interim interdict - Grahamstown High Court
SERI represents three students and a collection of concerned staff members of the Rhodes University in their interventions against an interim interdict granted in the Grahamstown High Court.
On 20 April 2016 the court granted the interdict, intended to address “discord” at the university. The interdict restrains a wide variety of persons, including the three students and concerned staff, from “encouraging, facilitating and/or promoting any unlawful activities” at the university.
The students and staff are concerned about the vagueness and reach of the interdict. The students, and many others not specifically named in the interdict, embarked upon peaceful protest to raise awareness of rape and sexual violence at Rhodes University. They were interdicted from continuing their protest without any notice that proceedings were being brought against them. Rhodes University's application for the interim interdict was essentially ex parte: none of the concerned students or staff received notice of the application before the interim interdict was granted. The evidence led by Rhodes University was accordingly unchallenged.
The students and staff believe that interdicts that restrain lawful picketing and assembly, as the relief sought by Rhodes University does, are inappropriate, and ought not to be granted. Further, they argue that Rhodes University has not led any credible evidence that any specific individual or group has committed any unlawful acts.
The lawfulness of granting such a wide-ranging interdict against an unascertainable class of persons was not tested in the court. Instead, the interdict was granted after the court heard oral evidence from five members of the university’s management and administrative staff.
The matter was heard in the Eastern Cape High Court in Grahamstown on 3 November 2016. The High Court dismissed Rhodes' application for the interdict on 1 December 2016. A narrower interdict was, however, granted against three of SERI's clients. SERI applied to the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) for special leave to appeal this interdict. On 2 July 2017 the SCA refused the special leave to appeal. On 20 July 2017 SERI filed an application for special leave to appeal to the Constitutional Court. On 7 November 2017 the Constitutional Court handed down a judgment which set aside the cost orders of the High Court and the SCA in the application for leave to appeal.