Police warn restaurants not to go ahead with protests today

Business Insider SA
A protest action planned for Wednesday July 22 will involve restaurants stacking empty chairs and tables in the streets .
  • Restaurants are planning to protest the hardships their industry are facing with a mass protest on Wednesday.
  • Empty chairs and tables will be stacked outside premises on the street.
  • But the police have warned that public gatherings are currently illegal.
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The police have warned restaurants that their planned mass protest action on Wednesday will be illegal.

Organised by the Restaurant Association of SA (RASA), restaurants and coffee shops are planning to block the roads outside their premises by placing all their empty tables and chairs on the street. The protest – called 1 Million Seats on the Streets - seeks to highlight the plight of the industry, which is on its knees as the coronavirus crisis and stringent lockdown measures threaten the livelihoods of its 800,000 employees. Many restaurants have gone out of business already.

While sit-down meals are now allowed in restaurants after a months-long ban, alcohol sales with meals are still out of bounds, starving many restaurants of much-needed income. The industry was dealt another blow with last week’s reintroduction of a curfew between 21:00 - 04:00.

READ | Heartbreaking photos reveal the jobs massacre at SA's top restaurants

Wednesday’s protest is expected to last two hours, from 12:00 to 14:00.

But in a letter to RASA, the police warned that all public gatherings are currently banned under disaster management legislation – unless it is to conduct “normal business”.

“When tables and chairs are moved to the street in front of a restaurant, one can hardly argue that the conduct forms part of the legitimate business of a restaurant to which the exception in DMA regulation 37(1)(l) applies," police deputy commissioner, lieutenant general Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi wrote.

Where a local authority has permitted restaurants to block a road, and where shopping mall owners have allowed the planned protest, these actions would be not be illegal.

But Mkhwanazi warned RASA that from the police’s viewpoint “your intended peaceful demonstration is not protected” and will be regarded as prohibited.

RASA CEO Wendy Alberts hit back in a message to members.

“It is amazing that this is the attitude the Police are adopting, yet other protests are simply ignored. As always and as law abiding citizens, we are deemed soft targets.  

But she warned members to stay on the “right side” of the police. “We have suffered enough.” She advised people to protest by standing on their own, and not to form part of a gathering.

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