South Africa, Pretoria – The Constitutional Court was this week asked to confirm an earlier order by the high court where certain sections of the South African Police Service Act were declared unconstitutional as they infringed on the privacy of citizens.
Residents of 11 buildings in Joburg inner city had successfully challenged, in the high court, the lawfulness and constitutionality of more than 20 police raids on their homes.
During the raids – joint operations by the police, the Joburg metro police, Home Affairs, and the City of Joburg officials – residents were forced out of the buildings and onto the streets.
Some were in their nightdresses and pyjamas when they were searched, finger-printed, and commanded to produce copies of their IDs, passports, or asylum seekers’ permits.
Anyone who was unable to produce their documentation was detained, including South African citizens because, according to one official, they “looked too dark” to be South African.
Most of those arrested were never charged. They were released after a day or two.
In June, the Full Bench of the Gauteng High Court, Joburg, delivered a judgment declaring sections of the act constitutionally invalid.
The Full Bench found that the former provincial police commissioner failed to apply her mind to the template-based applications for the authorisations, which led to the raids of the applicants’ homes without a warrant.
The court found that she simply rubber-stamped the applications brought to her.
The raids in the residents’ homes were “carried out in a manner that was cruel, humiliating, degrading and invasive” and “demonstrate an egregious abuse of, and infringement on the residents’ constitutional rights to privacy and dignity”, the court heard.
The residents have now approached the Constitutional Court to confirm the high court order declaring certain sections of the act constitutionally invalid.
They are also asking for damages for the breach of their constitutional rights to privacy and dignity caused by the unlawful raids to which they were subjected.
The residents are further seeking to interdict and restrain the police from searching their homes without an appropriate court order or warrant issued by a magistrate or a judge.
Judgment was reserved, but it is said this case can pave the way for safeguarding the rights of South Africans in cases where law enforcement officials overstep their boundaries regarding the privacy of people.
Khululiwe Bhengu, an attorney at the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa, who is representing the residents, said: “The confirmation and appeal application to the Constitutional Court is important to ensure the vindication of the residents’ rights to dignity and privacy.”
Bhengu said it was also to emphasise that as much as the sanctity of a person’s home is important, the right to privacy did not end at a person’s doorstep.