By ‘Odidi Matai-Sigudla
A packed meeting of the Makhanda High Court Action Committee (MHCAC) at Graeme College on 24 April, has called for residents of the town to step up their efforts to prevent the proposed forced removal of the High Court to Bhisho.
In November 2022, the Moseneke Commission recommended that the Eastern Cape seat of the High Court be moved to Bhisho – a recommendation that did not include any input from local organizations. It is the fifth attempt since 1996 to remove the High Court from Makhanda, with the previous attempts eventually being abandoned on the grounds that closing down the High Court in Makhanda would be catastrophic for the town.
In the latest meeting of the campaign to stop the move, MHCAC sub-committee chair and prominent Makhanda attorney Brin Brody, and committee member and Rhodes Business School director, Associate Professor Owen Skae said it was up to the people of the town to make sure the High Court stayed in Makhanda.
Brody explained that if the High Court were to move, so would the Judge President, the judges based at the court, and officials working for them. The mass migration would cause a plummet in property prices, and the municipality would lose a significant amount of rates and taxes. It has been previously estimated that the total loss of earnings to the town from legal, business, and professional institutions associated with the High Court would be between R230 million and R370 million per year.
“There’s a ripple effect which will be far worse. This is not a rumor. This is what will happen,” said Brody.
“We have three legs of our economy. We have Rhodes University and the private schools, the municipality, and we have the courts. We don’t have industry here. We don’t have anything else,” Brody continued.
“Imagine these rates not being paid to the municipality anymore. So it can and will only get a lot worse. If you think the town is bad now, look at the town after this happens. It really will be devastating,” Brody added.
Skae told the meeting that the residents of Makhanda were on their own in the bid to save the High Court.
“I’m sorry to say, but we are on our own,” began Skae. “We’ve got no friends here. Unless we as a civil society and people that live in Makana are prepared to ourselves decide our own destiny in relation to our own seat of the High Court, knowing that we can rely on the people who are going to fight tooth and nail through whatever legal means they can – to the Constitutional Court if necessary. We have a vested interest in making sure that we do that (having the High Court stay in Makhanda).”
The Commission’s final recommendation to move the Eastern Cape seat of the High Court to Bhisho will be submitted by the end of April. If they again recommend the move, MHCAC will have to litigate, which is costly.
The meeting also heard that the Moseneke Commission had refused the request by the MHCAC to visit Makhanda. This meant the MHCAC had to travel to Pretoria to present their case to the Commission, which was expensive.
The MHCAC is seeking financial support for the campaign. Local law firm Wheeldon, Rushmere, and Cole have made their Trust account available to receive donations. Any remaining funds will be donated to Makana Revive and the Grahamstown Feeding Association.
To donate to the MHCAC’s campaign to keep the High Court in Makhanda, please make deposits to:
Name of Account: Wheeldon, Rushmere & Cole Inc
Name of Bank: ABSA
Branch code: 632005
Account Number: 404 959 3189
Ref: S25363 and your name or the name of your business.