The South African government is working towards permanently entrenching powers that were tolerated only temporarily under the National State of Disaster. Instead of restoring normality, government is perpetuating the state of disaster by stealth, notably at a time when senior health professionals increasingly characterise Covid-19 as akin to seasonal influenza.
President Cyril Ramaphosa stated during his SONA address that the National State of Disaster will only be lifted once permanent regulations have been put in place. Health minister Joe Phaahla has confirmed that the government is busy drawing up regulations to this effect. Now, in a letter to Sakeliga’s attorneys, Minister of Cooperative Government and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, has indicated that the National State of Disaster will only be terminated when “adequate measures to deal with the effects of COVID-19 beyond the state of disaster have been finalised.” (Click here for letter)
Sakeliga believes that these efforts by the government endeavour to permanently entrench powers to force lockdowns, travel restrictions, vaccine compulsion, mask compulsion, and other invasive ‘public health’ measures.
There is no indication that Covid-19 can be eradicated, and it is inexcusable to use its mere non-eradication as justification for restrictions. There is clearly no underlying disaster and no crisis with hospital capacity. There exists today a multitude of grave threats to individual and community well-being in South Africa, including not only many other illnesses, but also from government itself, as indicated by the many admissions and even several of the aspirations of the President in his SONA.
Sakeliga will oppose attempts to institutionalise and concretise such drastic measures and sweeping powers in legislation or ordinary regulations.
While there is clearly no justification for a continued National State of Disaster, it has become clear that those who enjoy the discretion granted to government and opaque decision-making bodies under the National State of Disaster do not want to relinquish the authority to micromanage society.
Sakeliga continues to develop litigation to compel the National Disaster Management Centre to review its current classification of Covid-19 as a national disaster. To date, the Centre has been neglecting its constitutional obligations as a safeguard against the exercise of arbitrary cabinet power. In an earlier statement we noted that the Head of the Centre, Dr Mmaphaka Tau, refuses Sakeliga’s demand to revisit his original national disaster classification, based on which the subsequent National State of Disaster was promulgated by Dlamini-Zuma, arguing that the Centre bases its classifications on the actions of the Minister – an inverse of the procedure mandated by law.
Lockdowns and related restrictions have done considerable social and economic harm. Vesting such power to severely impact and alter society in regulatory or ministerial discretion is antithetical to constitutionalism. It erodes legal certainty and expands the scope of unchecked centralised state power. This in turn discourages long term planning and investment, harming social and commercial order.
The entire point of ending the state of disaster is to ensure the public is no longer subjected to the extraordinary, arbitrary, and unchecked decisions of government functionaries and bureaucrats, and to restore parliamentary oversight and other checks on state action. To indicate, as the government is, that the state of disaster can be ended only when such authority has been concretised in other legislation, thus ignores the point entirely and is unacceptable.
Sakeliga Stategic Analysis Unit