Dlamini-Zuma extends South Africa’s national state of disaster

Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has extended the national state of disaster by another month.

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 state of disaster was originally set to lapse on 15 June, the act provides that it can be extended by the Cogta minister by notice in the gazette for one month at a time before it lapses.

In a directive published on Wednesday (14 October), Dlamini-Zuma said that the extension takes into account the need to continue augmenting the existing legislation and contingency arrangements undertaken by organs of state to address the impact of the Covid-19 disaster.

The state of disaster is now set to lapse on 15 November.

Push-back

The extended national state of disaster has faced increased scrutiny from business groups and political parties who want the prolonged coronavirus lockdown to end.

Earlier this week, the Democratic Alliance (DA) said that the state of disaster undermines democracy, oversight, and policy certainty, and entrenches what it called “bad science”, promoting a climate of fear in the country.

“Extending (the state of disaster) will be no more than a continuation of the government’s attempt to use bad science to promote a climate of fear that gives false legitimacy to the ANC’s growing authoritarianism,” it said.

The party said that under South Africa’s level 1 lockdown rules, harm and damage is still being done to certain sectors of the economy – particularly tourism and the alcohol industry. Lockdown also continues to interrupt education, with no benefits to society, it said.

Shifting power

The state of disaster is what gives power and effect to all current lockdown regulations, which are all being directed under the Disaster Management Act. By terminating the state of disaster, all current regulations – such as curfew and restrictions on gatherings and movement – would also be ended.

However, a late-night submission by the Department of Health on Tuesday (13 October) has made a move to shift some of these powers over to the Health Act, giving the minister similar capacity to implement these restrictions.

These amendments to the Regulations Relating to the Surveillance and the Control of Notifiable Medical Conditions would allow health minister Zweli Mkhize to impose “necessary restrictions, relating to such notifiable medical condition” by the mere publication of a Government Gazette.

Restrictions may include:

  • Complete or partial closing of any public place including a place used for public receptions, tourist activities or events or public recreation, amusement or entertainment activities or events;
  • Prohibition of movements between districts and provinces of people;
  • Prohibitions of the use of ports of entry;
  • Imposing curfews for people to remain indoors; and
  • Closing of educational institutions.

The DA said that an argument can be made that regulations need to be improved in this area, going the route of handing power over to cabinet with little to no oversight, and giving them freedom to infringe rights on any arbitrary whim they have, is not the way to go.

“During the past seven months we have seen the South African government tighten its grip on citizens more with some irrational and unnecessary limitations of their rights. This was done arbitrarily through a Covid Command Council that was accountable to no one else besides the executive.

“We have seen Parliament sidelined and relegated to a mere spectator all while massive decisions pertaining to the rights of citizens were taken. This was done in aid of our fight against Covid-19 – a legitimate global health disaster,” it said.

“We cannot allow this state of affairs to be normalized as though we do not live in a Constitutional democracy.”


Read: South Africa’s state of disaster is set to end this week – but another extension looms

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Dlamini-Zuma extends South Africa’s national state of disaster