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‘Court must determine if Woolies is private property’: analyst

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It would be up to the courts to determine whether BDS South Africa has been in violation of Woolworth’s right to privacy, in regards to its boycott campaign on the retail chain. This is according to the Freedom of Expression Institute’s chairperson Prof. Anton Harber, commenting on Woolworths seeking court action against the pro-Palestinian lobby group.

BDS were last week issued with court papers by the retail company, to curtail its controversial #BoycottWoolworths campaign. They have been accused of infringing on Woolworths right to trade, intimidating its staff and customers, and damaging store goods. The allegations have been refuted by both BDS and the National Coalition for Palestine (NC4P), who have suggested the court action was a “sign of desperation” on the part of the retailer.

Speaking to VOC’s Breakfast Beat, Harber stressed the needs for groups such as BDS to have the freedom to express their views in the form of such public protests. However, the issue of contention was whether they were in fact conducting some of their protests on private property.

“I don’t think you can really expect the protection of the courts when you are doing things like, for example, putting pigs heads in the supermarket,” he noted, in reference to a recent COSAS protest that had brought the BDS campaign into disrepute.

What was imperative in the case, according to him, was whether the courts viewed a Woolworth’s branch as being private property, or as part of the public sphere. This would weigh heavily in terms of determining whether the organization’s protests were in violation of Woolworth’s rights.

It would further be up to BDS to assert that it could not take account for the actions of non-aligned members or members of the public, and that full members would continue to adhere to the rules of the law when conducting protests.

“They will need to show that they and their members will be disciplined, and will express their strong and important views as vocally and loudly as they can, but in a legal manner,” he said.

As for the strength of the case itself, Harber said the retailer would be well within its rights to try and defend what it regarded as its own private property, as well as its right to trade. Similarly, BDS also had every right to express its views against the retailer through any legal means.

“Our position would be clearly that everyone has the right to express their point of view, and they must defend that strongly on both sides. But everyone also has a responsibility to do it in a non-intimidating way,” he said.

Both sides have released statements on the issue, with Woolworths highlighting concerns over the safety of staff and shoppers. This comes ahead of a busy festive season period, with any potential protest likely to severely hamper the retailer’s business operations. BDS has also responded, likening the claims to that of Israeli propaganda.VOC (Mubeen Banderker)

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