The South African government is facing mounting legal challenges to its lockdown regulations as businesses, civil society groups and opposition parties target issues from the prohibition on the sale of alcohol to the planned rollout of vaccines.
Government is already fighting a number of court cases, including challenges to a ban on liquor sales to curb the spread of the virus, and the ban on the sale of cigarettes – which the government has lost but intends to appeal.
Vinpro, a non-profit company which represents 3,500 South African wine producers, is the latest group to institute action as it has approached the High Court to lift the alcohol sales ban for the Western Cape.
It specifically wants the court to give Western Cape premier Alan Winde permission to adopt deviations to enable off- and on-site consumption sale of liquor in the province. Vinpro said that it will then look for a similar order to be given in other provinces.
“While we did seek legal options during most of the period last year, beyond 28 December where a blanket approach was taken, it made it impossible for us to operate in an open environment where you’ve got no certainty or feedback,” Vinpro managing director Rico Basson told 702.
This is separate from the case being brought by South African Breweries (SAB) which aims to challenge the constitutionality of South Africa’s latest alcohol ban in court.
“After much consideration, SAB has decided to approach the courts to challenge the constitutionality of the decision taken and process followed by the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) to re-ban the sale of alcohol,” it said.
“This legal action is the last resort available to SAB in order to protect our employees, suppliers, customers, consumers and all the livelihoods we support.”
The group said that challenging the constitutionality of the ban, which removes the South African public’s right as adults to responsibly consume a beer safely in the privacy of their own homes, is an integral part of its court action.
“The damage to the South African economy and impact on the alcohol value chain arising from ban on the sale of alcohol is, in SAB’s view, disproportional and unlawful.”
Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) issued papers in the Johannesburg High Court this week to ask that government’s current and indefinite ban on faith-based gatherings also be lifted.
The group is asking for the religious sector to be treated equally to casinos, health clubs, cinemas and restaurants where gatherings of up to 50 people (indoors) and 100 (outdoors) are permitted.
It also wants religious workers to be recognised as essential workers providing an essential service.
It said its application is supported by multiple churches and religious organisations, representing over 11 million people, who believe that this ban amounts to unfair discrimination against the religious sector and is a gross violation of their constitutional right to religious freedom.
It points out that religion, because of its fundamental importance as a human right, enjoys even greater constitutional protection than the economic sector.
“We believe that religious leaders, who have been at the forefront of providing relief, comfort and support to their congregations during this pandemic, should be allowed to make the decision on whether (or not) to open their venues for faith-based gatherings”, said Michael Swain, executive director of FOR SA.
“If a restaurant owner can be trusted to make this decision, why not a pastor, imam, rabbi or priest?”
Opposition party, the Democratic Alliance said this week that it plans to take president Cyril Ramaphosa to court in an effort to force him to release the country’s Covid-19 vaccine plans.
The DA has accused the government of being slow to procure the vaccines and says that its vaccine rollout plan lacks detail.
“Ramaphosa wants a get-out-of-jail-free card by blaming the west for having ordered in time. We didn’t order in time, and now we’re blaming everyone else,” said Helen Zille, chair of the DA’s Federal Council, announcing the lawsuit.
Zille said South Africans had a right to know where the government was procuring vaccines, how it would administer them, and who was benefiting from the process.