DA to challenge ‘irrational’ lockdown rules in court

 ·14 May 2020

The Democratic Alliance has launched a court challenge to South Africa’s lockdown regulations, on the basis of irrationality – with a separate court challenge to test the constitutionality of the Disaster Management Act.

Speaking in a public briefing on Thursday, DA leader John Steenhuisen said that at a time when South Africans are begging for clarity on the way forward for the country under lockdown, president Cyril Ramaphosa fell short in addressing their biggest concerns.

“We repeat our call for the national lockdown to end swiftly. It is not a rational strategy, and has not been so for weeks. It is irrational and disproportionate to the scale of the risk that Covid poses, relative to other risks. And it has not been supported by an adequate safety net for poor people and small businesses,” he said.

“President Ramaphosa is attempting to defend the indefensible. This lockdown has cost more lives than it has saved. Millions of jobs and lives have been destroyed. Ramaphosa admitted in his speech that many regulations are irrational, yet did not end them. He continues to play on people’s fears.”

Steenhuisen said that decisions were being made by a “secretive subgroup” of the executive – referring to the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) – who were forcing regulations on the nation with vague reasoning, if giving any at all.

He said that by Ramaphosa’s own account, the purpose of the lockdown was to buy the country time to prepare for the rise in coronavirus cases – not to eradicate it – an objective which the president says has been achieved.

“Why keep the lockdown in place if it has achieved its goals?” he said. “It’s because of fear. Going into lockdown was easy – coming out of it is the hard part. It requires forward analysis and strategy. And instead of making the hard decisions, Ramaphosa is asking us to just wait another two weeks.”

“We don’t have another two weeks,” Steenhuisen said.

With a lack of action coming from government, Steenhuisen said the DA would step in to do what Ramaphosa cannot, and announced that the party will be launching several court cases to take on the most egregious missteps in the regulations.

Specifically, these are:

  • The night time curfew, being policed and enforced by the military;
  • The ban on e-commerce, simply on the grounds of “fairness”; and
  • The limitations on exercise and movement.

Steenhuisen said that there is no rational basis for any of these regulations, and is confident will not hold up if tested in court.

Additionally, the party wants to challenge the constitutionality of the Disaster Management Act, under which most of these regulations have been pushed through.

Here, Steenhuisen said that the NCCC is currently acting without any oversight, with zero input from parliament. “In effect, the NCCC answers to no-one,” he said.

“Not even in a State of Emergency – a higher level than a State of Disaster – does any body have such sweeping powers without parliamentary oversight. Those in the NCCC are writing laws and regulations as they please – by passing all debates and oversight by parliament.”

He said the party will file court papers to challenge the Act on Friday, saying that if the Act does not pass constitutional muster, the decisions being made by the NCCC are invalid.

Ramaphosa promises to do better

Addressing the nation on Wednesday night, president Cyril Ramaphosa said government is preparing for a further easing of the lockdown and a gradual opening of the economy, from the current level 4 lockdown.

“We will immediately begin a process of consultation with relevant stakeholders on a proposal that by the end of May, most of the country be placed on alert level 3, but that those parts of the country with the highest rates of infection remain on level 4.”

“We will make further announcements after the completion of the consultations,” said the president.

This comes after the government implements a risk-adjusted strategy aimed at easing the current lockdown restrictions.

However, hotspot areas with high infection rates will remain under level 4.

Outlining the lockdown easing measures, president Ramaphosa said some regulations surrounding retail, e-commerce and exercise would be relaxed.

The president admitted that not all government’s moves during the lockdown were done in the best way, to the best effect.

“There may have been times when we have fallen short of your expectations. Some of the actions we have taken have been unclear, some have been contradictory and some have been poorly explained.”

He conceded that intervention implementation has sometimes been slow and enforcement has sometimes been inconsistent and too harsh.

“As your president, as this government, we are firmly committed to meeting the expectations you rightly have of us. Where we have disappointed, we will continue to make amends. Where we make mistakes, we will continue to correct them,” said the president.

Read: Most of South Africa will move to level 3 lockdown by the end of May: Ramaphosa

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