From the news desk

Knysna mosque judgement a “landmark victory”

By Yaseen Kippie

The Western Cape High Court ruled on the Knysna Muslim Council versus 22 Rawson Street Corporate case today. The verdict was in favour of the Council’s proposed project to build Knysna’s first mosque. In September 2014, the Knysna Muslim Council applied for approval of a project to build an Islamic Centre, including a mosque, on a vacant plot near the town’s centre. This after a a decade of using a makeshift house for an overflowing Jumuah, attended by residents and tourists alike.

After multiple meetings with various Knysna municipal councils, including the Aesthetics Committees, Planning Committee, and Mayoral Committee, the Knysna municipality approved the rezoning of the plot for development in 2015. However, this was met with an objection from a body corporate of a nearby building, namely the 22 Rawson Street Body Corporate, and residents, spearheaded by Michael Joseph Hudspith.

The opposition applied to the Western Cape High Court for a hearing in order to disallow the Knysna municipality’s approval of the mosque project. Residents cited concerns over the availability of parking‚ traffic congestion and the noise factor that “would push tourists away”, as supported by Advocates W Duminy and D Borgstrom. Another complaint was that the municipality were fraudulent in their misrepresentation of the meetings held. This was coupled with over seven thousand pages of paperwork to document the legal consequences of the mosque being built.

In their rebuttal, the Knysna Municipality cited the transcripts of the various meetings held, which they used as evidence that no fraudulent misrepresentation took place. The parking issue and traffic congestion concerns were put to rest by Advocate Mohamed Salie, who called on the constitution’s fundamental tenets of freedom of religion and assemble.  He said that “the examples of South Africa should shine as a beacon of light, allowing religious freedom and religious rituals. This should overwhelm any concerns over 45 minutes of traffic congestion.”

Concessions were made by the Council, especially in the case of noise disturbance.

“We commend the Knysna Muslim Council for choosing to agree not to have the call to prayer on loud speaker, but to send a signal to the homes of the Muslims in the community. They have decided to choose to build a mosque, while agreeing to remove something not fundamentally required to be on loud speaker, i.e. the adhan,” said attorney Ighsaan Sadien.

Judge Daniel Dlodlo, overseeing the hearing, ruled that the case was dismissed with immediate effect and that all costs incurred during the case should be paid for the legal costs of the Knysna Muslim Council by the residents and the corporation who opposed the mosque project.

This is seen as a landmark victory by advocates defending the case and the Knysna Muslim Council alike.

“Knysna is one of many closed societies that 23 years since democracy began in South Africa, still seeks to maintain their seclusion. We see this in other areas such as Gordons Bay and surrounding areas. This is the first step in securing the proper execution of religious freedoms for all start-up Muslim communities in South Africa.”

On a social media forum, communications officer for the Knysna municipality Fran Kirsten released a statement broadcast minutes after the judgment: “The Knysna municipality is absolutely elated. The case was dismissed with costs [the municipality does not have to pay costs].”

In the full judgement, Judge Dlodlo wrote that: “The founding papers make it appear that the stance adopted by the applicants (the opposition to the mosque project) is somehow ascribed to their almost obvious opposition to the coming into existence of the Islamic Centre, in this particular town. The applicants need to bear in mind that the advent of democracy brought along rights to every sector of the community. These rights are enshrined in the Constitution. The applicants may not be seen to engage in a stance calculated to deny the Muslim community of Knysna freedom of religion and assemble.”

The judge’s comments refer to a deeper problem among closed communities in South Africa. After the judgement, some Knysna residents took to social media to voice their anger at the ruling.

“This is a disaster for our town,” said one resident.

Others have called for the plot to be defiled.

“That’s exactly where I take my pet pig Porkie for walks every day!”

The applicants have 15 days to appeal the judgement, but lawyers dealing with the case say that would be “a silly move.”

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