Legal experts have questioned an interdict granted to a group of Eastern Cape farmers, saying it unjustifiably limits their farm workers’ constitutional right to speak out against alleged poor treatment.

According to a Mail & Guardian report, a group of commercial farmers sought the interdict that effectively bars the Nelson Mandela Bay-based Khanyisa Educational and Development Trust and its director, Simphiwe Dada, the Kouga Farm Workers Reunion, and seven individual farm workers from intimidating the farmers or speaking about them to anyone.

Sitting in the Eastern Cape High Court, Judge Nozuko Mjali granted the final court order, unopposed, on 18 April.

But the farm workers in question had no legal representation at the time. They are now preparing an appeal.

University of Cape Town constitutional law professor Pierre de Vos said ‘the prohibition on any communication with any person about the products of the farmer constitutes an unconscionable and unjustifiable limitation on the right to freedom of expression’.

He commented that it was ‘surprising that the interdict had been granted at all … It looks like an attempt to criminalise social justice activism – protecting the economic interests of the powerful while negating the political rights of the activists’.

Jane Duncan, a University of Johannesburg professor and expert in the repression of social movements, said that the farmers should have brought a defamation case against the activists if they were concerned about defamatory speech. Instead, she says the interdict was ‘an inappropriately blunt instrument to use that actually leaves these claims untested’.

Full Mail & Guardian report