President Cyril Ramaphosa has addressed a number of legal challenges brought against the government’s lockdown regulations, stating that the government will always welcome criticism and acknowledge the rights of citizens to challenge its regulations in court.
“Since the start of this crisis, a number of people have exercised their right to approach the courts,” Ramaphosa said.
“The lockdown regulations were challenged in the very first week of the lockdown by a private citizen from Mpumalanga who wanted an exemption from the travel prohibition to attend a funeral,” he said.
In the seven weeks that have followed, the government has received legal challenges from a number of individuals, religious bodies, political parties, NGOs, and business organisations lockdown provisions they were unhappy with.
He said that a number of these had succeeded and others had not, and a number of applicants withdrew their legal actions following engagement with the government.
Ramaphosa acknowledged that the right to bring legal action against the government is acceptable and welcome in a constitutional democracy.
“While we would prefer to avoid the need for any legal action against government, we should accept that citizens who are unhappy with whatever action that government has decided on implementing have a right to approach our courts for any form of relief they seek,” he said.
“Where we are found wanting, we will be held to account by our courts and, above all, by our citizens.”
He noted that the government has continued to receive criticism over everything from its data modelling and projections to the economic effects of the regulations.
“As government, we have neither called for such critique to be tempered or for it to be silenced.”
“To the contrary, criticism, where it is constructive, helps us to adapt and to move with agility in response to changing circumstances and conditions,” Ramaphosa said.
The government sources empirical scientific and economic data when making decisions about regulations to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, and Ramaphosa said that they aim to consult with relevant industries as much as possible.
“We want all South Africans to be part of this national effort. The voices of ordinary citizens must continue to be heard at a time as critical as this,” he said.
The negative economic and social effects of the pandemic and lockdown regulations are expected to continue going forward, Ramaphosa warned.
“Although we can point to the progress we have made in delaying the transmission of the virus, there is still a long way to go,” he said.
“The weeks and months ahead will be difficult and will demand much more from our people.”
“We will continue to welcome different – even dissenting – viewpoints around our national coronavirus response,” he said.
“All viewpoints aid us and help us to work better and smarter.”