A call to end South Africa’s state of disaster

Western Cape premier Alan Winde has written a letter to president Cyril Ramaphosa, requesting a consultation with provinces before any extension on the declaration of the national state of disaster is promulgated.

“During this consultation, I have also asked for transparency on the national government’s proposed roadmap out of the national state of disaster, which has not yet been made public or shared with provinces, despite the significant impact that the continued declaration has on the provincial economy and our constitutional powers,” Winde said.

“It is only fair on our residents, and especially our job-creating businesses, that this clarity is provided. We cannot be in a state of disaster forever, and we need to have a clear plan for its termination. This will provide much-needed confidence to the economy, which remains under great pressure.”

The government declared a national state of disaster under Section 27(1) and Section 27(2) of the Disaster Management Act on 15 March 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

While the national state of disaster was initially set to lapse on 15 June 2020, the act provides that it can be extended by the Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs minister by notice in the gazette for one month at a time before it lapses.

The government has relied on the regulations to introduce and give effect to lockdown restrictions, which it has used to curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, it has also faced criticism for giving national government wide-ranging powers over the lives of citizens, with few limits and little to no oversight from parliament.

The state of disaster is currently scheduled to end on 15 October, subject to a further monthly extension.


Plan to end state of disaster 

Winde said that the Western Cape Government has developed a five-point plan on how South Africa can get the balance right in saving lives and jobs:

  • End the national state of disaster to grow the economy and create jobs.
  • Enable provincial and local government responses through an established traffic-light warning system based on pre-determined measures of the health platform capacity. This will enable regional, differentiated approaches in the future based on a provincial government’s capacity to respond to increased pressures.
  • Maintain healthcare capacity by increasing budget allocations to Provincial Governments. This will enable maintenance of standby field hospital capacity, healthcare worker capacity and oxygen capacity should it be required in the future.
  • Empower people by continuing with behaviour change campaigns that provide knowledge on non-pharmaceutical safety practices. Residents must be given the agency to protect themselves and others.
  • Increase vaccinations through more pop-up and satellite vaccination sites, which work better by improving convenience and access. The national government should support this approach.

“Cooperative governance is an important principle of our constitutional dispensation, and it is important that a decision to extend the disaster, which has such serious consequences for provinces and their economies, be preceded by a thorough application of minds and detailed consideration of provincial plans and capacity to manage the pandemic going forward.

“We trust that the president will treat this request as a genuine attempt to get the balance right in saving both lives and jobs in our country, and in line with the principles enshrined in the Constitution,” Winde said.

Hesitancy

Despite facing increasing criticism, Ramaphosa has said that he is hesitant to lift South Africa’s national state of disaster as the government may need to rely on the legislation in the coming months.

In an interview at the end of September, the president said that the government is dependent on the legislation to respond to potential Covid-19 waves in South Africa going forward.

“I wish it could end today. I really wish we could say that the state of disaster has ended. We are guided by science, the signs of the pandemic and the Ministerial Advisory Committee guides us in all this.

“There is fear and concern that there could be another wave. What if there is another wave, and tomorrow I announce that the state of disaster has ended? Then we have to go back to a state of disaster again.”


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A call to end South Africa’s state of disaster