13 September 2023
A Pretoria High Court judge has granted a final interdict against the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) after an armed group wearing its regalia disrupted the operations of a Boksburg company in March last year.
The group demanded that the company, Gas Giants, dismiss immigrant workers and pay “protection money”.
In granting the final interdict, Judge Cassim Sardiwalla also ordered the EFF and the ringleaders of the protest to pay the costs of the application on a punitive scale.
Gas Giants first secured an interim interdict against the EFF and Khutso Segage, Agree Mathebula and Matome Solomon Masipa in early March 2022.
The wide-ranging order prohibited them from disrupting operations, instigating others to do so, assaulting or intimidating staff, damaging property and being within 500 metres of the property.
The matter came before Judge Sardiwalla in an application by the company for a final interdict, which was opposed by the EFF, largely on the basis that there was no proof that those involved in the disruption had been authorised to act in its name or on its behalf, even though they were wearing EFF T-shirts.
But Judge Sardiwalla said if this was so, then the EFF should take steps to protect the sale of its regalia to the public and take action against those it claimed were acting without its authority.
Setting out the background to the application, the judge said that during November 2021, Segage and Mathebula, saying they acted for the EFF, had asked to meet company representatives. Although the EFF did not represent any workers, company representatives had agreed to hear its stance on labour issues.
Segage and Mathebula had insisted that the company dismiss immigrant workers and had then demanded protection money.
In March 2022, Masipa who was an employee at the company, was fired for misconduct and rude behaviour. This prompted a message to the company from Segage that it was “undermining the labour desk”.
A few days later, the EFF arrived at the company’s premises and blocked the entrance.
Later that day, Segage sent a threatening message: “If you are not willing to seat with us down then your business will remain like that, tomorrow its worse, so beef up your security. EFF cannot allow exploitation n victimization”.
The following day, the threat was made good and EFF members returned with weapons.
The company, in its submissions to the court, said Segage, who led the protest, had identified himself as an EFF member “and does so on his social media”.
The EFF, it was submitted, had failed to hold its members accountable and could not contend that it existed separately from its members. Rather than distancing itself from the wrongdoing, it was opting to oppose the matter.
The EFF submitted that any member of the public could buy its red regalia and there was no direct evidence that the EFF was involved.
The judge said the company had put up photographs, WhatsApp chats and proof of payments made to Segage and Mathebula. These had not been denied by the EFF. The EFF accepted that Segage was there but said there was no evidence that he had conducted himself unlawfully.
Regarding the payments, the EFF said they were donations to a local community soccer club.
“The respondents [EFF] have not disputed the allegations that an unlawful protest occurred and that those attending were brandishing weapons,” said Judge Sardiwalla.
He said the EFF could not separate itself from the actions of its members by simply saying that any member of the public could purchase its regalia and allege to be a member.
“I find this argument concerning. The EFF should take action to guard against this risk.
“Alternatively, the EFF by virtue of the same argument can incite unlawful protests with potential to harm innocent civilians without facing any repercussions or accountability.”
He noted that the EFF had failed to take action against those it claimed to be “tarnishing its reputation”.
The judge also took note that the company’s operations involve highly flammable gasses and liquids, and if a final interdict was not granted, “serious bodily injuries could result”.
He granted a final order on the same terms as the interim interdict.