Activist seeks support to sue government

Tafelsig activist Joanie Fredericks is seeking financial and legal support to launch a class-action lawsuit against the government on behalf of those hurt by the Covid-19 lockdown.

Ms Fredericks, the co-ordinator of the Tafelsig Community Action Network (CAN), accuses the state of failing to address what she calls a “hunger crisis” in the country and is calling on community leaders, feeding schemes, soup kitchens and non-governmental organisations to join the class action.

Ms Fredericks sent a video message, which went viral, to President Cyril Ramaphosa at the start of the lockdown; she was also one of the organisers of the Dear Mr President video project, telling the stories of desperate communities across the country.

She also featured in the video and song What About the People, written by Lottering and performed by Craig
Lucas.

In a WhatsApp text she asks people who were denied the R350 Covid-19 social relief of distress grant to contact her. She also wants to hear from those whose applications were rejected but later approved as well as those who applied for the Covid-19 Temporary Employee Relief Scheme (TERS) benefits after losing their jobs or taking pay cuts but never saw any money. Supporting documentation can be sent to watpfoodfund@gmail.com with “class action evidence” in the subject line.

“Please treat this as a matter of urgency as I am doing this to assist the most vulnerable in our communities who, in some cases, are completely dependent on organisations such as ours,” she writes.

According to Professor Ebenezer Durojaye, from the University of the Western Cape’s Dullah Omar Institute, a class action lawsuit allows the claims, or parts of the claims, of several people, to be determined in one suit, and it can be either opt-in or opt-out. In an opt-out class action, all individuals likely to be affected by the outcome of the action are deemed to be part of the suit unless they specifically request to be excluded. In the case of opt-in, all individual class members falling within the definition of the class must specifically request to be part of the class action.

The person bringing the action must show that the outcome will not only affect him or her but a larger group of people. In the first stage of a class action, known as the certification stage, the court tries to ascertain commonality of the action brought among the people in order to allow the group representative to continue on their behalf. In the assessment stage, the court determines the liability of the defendant.

An individual or group of individuals representing others can bring a class action and it can be filed at any time, especially when it has been established that the rights or interests of a group of people are affected or threatened.

You can also file a class action to allege that the provisions of the Bill of Rights were breached.

The lawyer handling the case would determine where to file such an action, but Professor Durojaye said ideally it should be filed in the high court, alleging an infringement of the Bill of Rights.

Ms Fredericks asked that aggrieved parties should email their identity number, the reference number acknowledging receipt of their application and the introductory SMS received determining the terms and conditions of the fund.