Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola has explained government’s decision to introduce strict curfew times as part of the country’s coronavirus lockdown.
Under level 4 lockdown regulations, which came into effect on Friday, 1 May, outdoor exercise is limited to 06h00 and 09h00. Movement is also limited to a 5km radius from home.
Government has also introduced an evening curfew during which South Africans are confined to their place of residence between 20h00 and 05h00. The exceptions to this curfew are those people performing an essential service or those who have an emergency to deal with.
Speaking in a parliamentary meeting on Monday (5 May), Lamola explained that the regulations do not classify this as a ‘curfew’ but instead aim to restrict movement.
Lamola said that these restrictions were introduced primarily because South Africa (and the rest of the world) is dealing with the ‘terrain of the unknown’ when it comes to the coronavirus.
This combined with the return to work of more than 1.5 million people, means far more movement that the police will need to monitor.
“It was assessed that when people are back from work and leave at the end of the day, there will be a temptation to go and visit friends and family. This will increase the burden on police…There will also be other major points of convergence as people return from different parts of the country that they were sheltering in prior to the lockdown,” the minister said.
“The police said that they will need some time to deal with these situations. In the meantime, they will need restriction of movement so that they know that from 20h00 – 17h00 they will only deal with people who have permits – or have emergencies.”
Lamola said that the same line of thinking was applied to the restrictions around jogging and exercise.
“If the regulations allow jogging for the whole day, it means that for the whole day police will have to monitor people exercising. But, if there is a prescribed time, they can deal with the issues they are supposed to deal with during the rest of the day.”
The limited time available to exercise has however, brought with it overcrowding in certain areas, as is evidenced on social media in recent days. This flies in the face of social distancing – a 1.5m – 2m physical distancing gap between people as recommended by the government.
Critics have argued that government has gone too far when it comes to the restrictions imposed under the level 4 lockdown, with some threatening legal action.
A group of attorneys argue that the country’s National Command Council (NCC) has effectively displaced constitutional and statutory bodies and is overreaching in establishing restrictions for the country.
Advocate Vuyani Ngalwana said that clarity is required around the legality and powers of the NCC.
“Under current Covid-19 induced circumstances in South Africa, a body known as the National Command Council (NCC), apparently appointed by the South African president to lead the fight against Covid-19, appears to be determining their implementation,” he said.
“The question that arises is in terms of what constitutional power government policy can be delegated by the president to a body that appears to have no legitimate legislative or constitutional existence.”
Government has also been criticised for the authoritarian manner in which it has handed down the regulations.
“Here we find ourselves, somehow being treated like naughty children and yourselves being our self-appointed parents,” Mike Abel, founder and chief executive of advertising agency, M&Saatchi Abel, said in an open letter to the government. “You have overreached in terms of your controls.”