Grahamstown looks set to keep the High Court, after a two-year battle against a proposal to move the Eastern Cape High Court to Bhisho united the city, with local government, schools, lawyers, NGOs and 10 000 signatories to a petition from various communities protesting the move.
“Just about every dimension of Grahamstown was behind this,” said Dr Sizwe Mabizela, Deputy Vice Chancellor of Rhodes University, at a Grahamstown High Court Action Committee press conference yesterday morning. Mabizela is chairman of the action committee.
At issue was the Superior Courts Bill which, if passed, would have made Bhisho the seat of the Eastern Cape High Court. At the press conference, the action committee announced that a revised version of the bill, which says the seat of the Eastern Cape High Court is Grahamstown, had been sent to Parliament’s
portfolio committee on Justice.
While the bill has yet to be passed as law, the action committee believes there’s plenty to celebrate.
Mabizela said the proposed move had united Grahamstown across party and racial lines. “It really was something wonderful to observe; just about every dimension of Grahamstown was behind this.”
He called it a victory for the power of constitutionalisation when members of the public put their views across to a democratic government that actually listened. He said a personal representation by Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba to justice minister Jeff Radebe in December had appeared to swing the minister’s mind about the matter.
The minister had been open to discussing the high court issue and had listened intently. “He wanted to understand,” the archbishop had told Mabizela.
Advocate Brin Brody, also a member of the action committee, thanked the Minister of Justice, Mabizela, committee member Margie Keeton, and the archbishop. “The legal profession is highly grateful to them, they saved Grahamstown,” Brody said.
Mabizela thanked the media for educating the general public about the possible consequences of the proposed Bhisho move “and illustrating how disastrous it would have been. “The media played a vitally important role,” Mabizela said.
“I don’t think there will be any future intention of moving the High Court from Grahamstown.” Committee member, Margie Keeton, cited the outcome of the proposed bill, as “evidence that the government can listen, hear, and change its mind”.
In a previous press statement, the Grahamstown Attorneys Association wrote that it would have cost taxpayers between R300 million and R400 million to relocate and rebuild the courts. It also said Grahamstown’s loss would not really benefit Bhisho, as many of the people working in Bhisho lived in East
The campaign to keep the high court in Grahamstown began in April 2009. Campaigners argued that the shift would have resulted in a general degradation of the Grahamstown economy because of job losses and the exodus of professionals linked to the court. Even tourism would have been affected, because of
the court’s unique historical interest, they argued.
UNITED FRONT... Brin Brody, Dr Sizwe Mabizela, Prof Julie Wells and Margie Keeton celebrate the fact that a revised version of the controversial Superior Courts Bill has gone to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee of Justice. The High Court Action Committee held a press conference to announce the news yesterday. Photo: Timothy Gabb