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11/11/99 . Melanie Gosling . Cape Times . South Africa
McDonald's Protesters Off The Hook
The state has dropped the charges against the 13 people who were arrested for picketing outside McDonald's in Cape Town on October 16 - known as Global Day of Action against McDonald's.
The group were charged with holding an illegal placard protest, and had appeared in court once.
Anna Weekes, one of those arrested, said there were already eight police officers waiting for them at McDonald's Adderley Street branch when they had arrived to protest, as well as "senior McDonald's management".
Another of the protesters, Alan Tregenna, said when they were handing out pamphlets the police asked if they had permission from the municipality.
"I said we didn't, but the Constitution guaranteed us the right to peaceful protest. "We were given five minutes to disperse, so we started moving," Tregenna said. "And then the police started grabbing people and took us to Caledon Square where we were charged."
Weekes said some had been arrested on the back of a bakkie that was already driving off.
She later wrote to the senior public prosecutor asking that the charges be dropped. She wrote: "We understand that there is a municipal by-law that stipulates permission should be sought for picketing, but this is only necessary where normal traffic flow will be obstructed. We at no time obstructed the vehicle or pedestrian traffic. We believe the charges are a smokescreen for victimisation by police and McDonald's management."
The arrests drew messages of support from Dave Morris of England, who with Helen Steele, was charged with libel by the giant McDonald's Corporation for handing out pamphlets entitled "What's wrong with McDonald's?" published by London Greenpeace in the 1980s.
It was the longest trial in British history, and although McDonald's won, it was greeted in the British press as "a public relations disaster of the company's own making".
The allegations made in the pamphlets received massive exposure through the trial, and some say that had McDonald's ignored the pamphlets, most people would never had heard of the criticisms.
The court ruled that most of the allegations were untrue, but upheld Morris and Steele's claim that McDonald's paid low wages, was responsible for cruelty to some animals and exploiting children in its advertising.
The international day of action began during the trial, and is observed in many countries.