HARARE – The National Electoral Reform Agenda (Nera) must face a class-action lawsuit for the alleged looting and destruction of property during a protest for electoral reforms, a Harare judge has ruled.
In a decision yesterday, High Court judge Owen Tagu ruled that the Zanu PF-aligned peace and business organisation, Citizens Against Violence and Anarchy Trust (Cavaat), had a standing to lead the case.
The decision means Cavaat can hold Nera as a group liable over the alleged damage to property during a protest that took place in Harare on August 26 last year.
This could lead to a large payout than if individual lawsuits were required.
Nera failed to respond to the application for a certification decision, with the case placed on the unopposed roll.
Nera — a grouping of over 18 political parties — is accused of organising the demonstration.
“I accept that the respondent (Nera) has a right to conduct peaceful demonstrations.
“However, I am advised that it is required to put in place adequate measures to ensure that demonstrations are conducted peacefully and must comply to the best of its ability with its notice of a public gathering and or directions given to it by the regulatory authority,” said Elton Ziki, who deposed an affidavit on behalf of Cavat.
“Notwithstanding this, there was violence during the demonstration,” he said, adding that “some of the protestors also participated in the violence.”
“Ultimately, there was public disorder and a breach of peace, which resulted in loss and or damage of property of individuals who did not even participate in the demonstrations,” Ziki argued.
The application was filed in terms of Section 3 (1) of the Class Actions Act.
In terms of the law, a class action cannot be instituted directly without seeking the court’s permission.
“The respondent as the convenor had a duty to ensure that the demonstration was peaceful. It was required to put in place adequate measures to ensure that there was no violence,” Ziki said.
“Even after the violence had started, it had a duty to discourage its members from participating in the violence,” he said.
He said the Nera protestors were seen throwing stones, looting, vandalising and even burning property, but accused the convenors of failing to take any action to normalise the situation.
“As a result of the violence that occurred during the demonstrations, ordinary citizens lost property and business.
“It is no longer certain whether one can conduct business in the usual manner for fear of loss or damage of property.”
“It is only fair, reasonable, necessary and justifiable that the respondent be held liable for the loss or damage of property suffered by ordinary citizens,” Ziki said, adding that Nera failed to comply with a High Court order for it to demonstrate peacefully.