The right to peaceful assembly and the COVID-19 pandemic: a threatened right; an ironic connection

Author: Foluso Adegalu
Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria

The right to peaceful assembly enables individuals to express themselves collectively and to participate in shaping their societies and can be of particular importance to marginalised and disenfranchised members of society. The right to peaceful assembly entails a legitimate use of the public space. Although the exercise of the right to peaceful assembly is normally understood to pertain to the physical gathering of persons, comparable human rights protections also apply to acts of collective expression through digital means, for example online gatherings.

The right to peaceful assembly is guaranteed under both international and national laws. The right to peaceful assembly is guaranteed under article 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which provides that:

every individual shall have the right to assemble freely with others. The exercise of this right shall be subject only to necessary restrictions provided for by law in particular those enacted in the interest of national security, the safety, health, ethics and rights and freedoms of others.

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I do not agree with what [Malema has] to say but I will defend to the death [his] right to say it – Voltaire

Author: Kenneth Sithebe
Student Assistant, Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria

The rule of law is the overarching concern as regards the events in Marikana- after other issues such as: the arrest and charge of the miners only to be released later (see article by Killander on AfricLaw), human dignity, the right to assemble and the right to life were raised. It was appalling to see a South African turned away from a lawful gathering under dubious legal grounds (Regulation of Gatherings Act 205 of 1993) and on the pretence that he ‘might’ incite striking miners to commit a criminal offence. Julius Malema was turned away by police at the Wonderkop stadium, Marikana after he tried to attend a gathering by the striking miners, and possibly to address them.

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