The Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services, on Wednesday, said it has “noted with concern the flagrant and complete disdain” with which the City of Johannesburg’s Member of the Mayoral Committee (MMC) on Economic Development Nkululeko Mbundu has treated the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (Seri).
On Monday, Seri said it had temporarily closed its offices in the wake of violence-inciting comments made by MMC Mbundu.
Retired Constitutional Court judge and patron of Seri, Zak Yacoob, told reporters that most staffers were young lawyers and researchers who chose to defend the poor.
Reacting to last week’s court interdict stopping the removal of street vendors, MMC Mbundu asserted that the SA Informal Traders Forum was “pretty much all foreign nationals … with a front by South Africans”.
He added: “As soon we have identified people, we will take necessary steps. Cleaning up the city can mean two things – you send people to pick up dirt or remove people.”
The court ordered the City to reverse the illegal eviction of informal traders from the De Villiers trading precinct.
Concerned about the inflammatory comments made by the MMC on social media, the department of justice said Wednesday: “The MMC’s actions have been a blatant violation of a court order and show a total disregard for court decisions.
“The MMC has also endangered the lives of Seri’s staff by placing pictures of Seri staff and their respective cellphone numbers on social media and baiting xenophobic elements in our communities to target these individuals.
“The MMC’s tweets have incited threats of violence against Seri including, amongst others, the burning down of Seri’s offices, killing the lawyers who represented the informal traders and harm other Seri staff. As a result, Seri has had to temporarily close its offices.
“We call upon the Information Regulator to investigate these actions in line with the Protection of Personal Information Act.”
The department said court orders were vital to the rule of law.
“We urge the City of Johannesburg Mayor to ensure that orders made by our courts are upheld and respected,” said the department, adding that simply condemning the unlawful actions of this MMC was not enough.
The City of Joburg has since distanced itself from MMC Mbundu’s utterances.
Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, John Jeffery, said: “It is important to stress that the right to legal representation is fundamental.
“Every person has the right to have their case heard before a court of law. Legal practitioners represent their clients and the rights of their clients.
“They cannot and should not ever be harassed and intimidated for doing their jobs.
“Furthermore, Seri is a non-profit human rights organisation. Any attack on a human rights organisation is an attack on democracy itself.”