The problem with how South Africa makes lockdown laws

The way in which South Africa is drafting and imposing lockdown regulations makes a mockery of the country’s constitutional democracy, according to Justice Project South Africa chair Howard Dembovsky.

To date, the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) and Cabinet have implemented lockdown regulations via the Disaster Management Act, a process which Dembovsky said is undemocratic.

“I am astonished that, more than six months after the World Health Organisation declared a global health emergency, this government has altogether failed to even consider drafting and enacting any proper legislation to address SARS-CoV-2,” he said.

“Instead, it has made use of the Disaster Management Act to decree regulations on a whim, and to treat the people of South Africa as its playthings.”

South Africa has once again extended the term of its national state of disaster to 15 August 2020, an announcement that was accompanied by the immediate ban on the sale and distribution of alcohol and the imposition of a curfew.

As with prior lockdown regulations, these new rules were promulgated under the Disaster Management Act.

“I don’t think it is at all unfair to say that Parliament is nothing more than a charade now, legitimising the dictatorship of the NCCC and Cabinet, in what is making a mockery of the much-abused term: ‘a constitutional democracy’,” Dembovsky said.

He added that this is further exacerbated by the government’s acquiescence to the unreasonable demands made by the local taxi industry regarding lockdown regulations.

Under the new regulations, taxis are permitted to resume operations at 100% capacity, despite the severe risk for the transmission of the disease in these situations.

Dembovsky said that the minibus taxi industry has been allowed to act as a “parallel NCCC” and has been given everything it had demanded, regardless of the risk posed by loading taxis to full capacity.

“This, while other industries and every other commercial venture simply gets shafted and driven to bankruptcy because they have failed to establish a mafia to threaten the government with,” he said.

Concerns of police overreach

As a curfew is reimposed on South Africans and the sale of alcohol is once again banned, some may be concerned about the behaviour of the local police during the lockdown.

Dembovsky said that it would be an understatement to state that he was concerned about potential law enforcement overreach.

“Police have repeatedly demonstrated that they do not care whether they expose people to infection by arresting them and throwing them in filthy, overcrowded police cells,” he said.

“This is evidenced by the fact that, up until 9 June, more than 276,000 people were arrested for undermining the State’s authority.”

“Our law enforcement officials are not famed for treating people with dignity.”

“They often get heavy-handed and stamp the authority of the State on the populous – with their boots, fists, handcuffs, and any other weapon at their disposal.”

Dembovsky also noted that South Africans who paid admission of guilt fines for breaking lockdown rules would automatically receive a criminal record.

For this reason, South Africans should not pay a fine if they are unfairly arrested for infringing on lockdown rules.

Now read: The data behind South Africa’s decision to reinstate the alcohol ban

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The problem with how South Africa makes lockdown laws