State of disaster legal challenge launched

Civil rights organisation Afriforum and labour movement Solidarity have launched their legal challenges against the national state of disaster.

The two organisations served papers in the Pretoria High Court on Tuesday requesting that the continuation of the current state of disaster be declared invalid.

“In its court papers, Solidarity contends that the ongoing extension of the state of disaster is irrational and extremely damaging for the economy as well as for social and political norms in South Africa,” Solidarity said in a statement on Wednesday.

Solidarity CEO Dirk Hermann argued that the government’s relaxation of regulations effectively already confirmed that the Covid-19 disaster was a thing of the past.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet recently announced that people who tested positive for Covid-19 but showed no symptoms, no longer had to isolate.

In addition, the isolation period for symptomatic cases was reduced to 7 days, while persons who came into contact with them were also no longer required to isolate if they showed no symptoms.

Rotational learning and 1-metre social distancing at schools were also abolished.

Solidarity said the Disaster Management Act did not provide for a state of disaster as a preventive action, but could only be used to manage an active threatening disaster.

Hermann warned that clinging stubbornly to the state of disaster would be disastrous in itself.

“A continuation of the state of disaster based on the principle that there may well be another wave in the future, is clearly deranged,” Hermann said.

“How, according to such logic, would one ever return to a functioning democracy?” Hermann asked.

“The Disaster Management Act [DMA] has always been intended to create a drastic, yet very short-term situation — for the very reason of allowing the government to move quickly,” Hermann said.

Dirk Hermann, Solidarity CEO

Hermann said it was absurd that the ruling party wanted to keep South Africa in a “semi-autocracy” that had become almost permanent simply because they had not created any significant additional capacity at hospitals.

“It is time to make an end to the Command Council, to empower people to make their own decisions and to stop the disruptive uncertainty that is crippling our economy,” Hermann stated.

Solidarity and Afriforum’s applications come amid rising public calls demanding the end of the state of disaster and the disbanding of the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC).

A collective opinion piece by a group of health experts, including Wits vaccinology professor Shabir Mahdi, proposed a set of alternative measures to manage the pandemic.

Business groups, opposition parties, and several government officials have also called for the state of disaster to be lifted to allow the country’s economy to recover.

President Ramaphosa has acknowledged that there was a good argument to be made for the end of the state of disaster.

The head of the NCCC, cooperative governance and traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, recently told the National Council of Provinces that her department had written to other ministries to decide if the state of disaster regulations could be terminated.

Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma South African Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs
Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs

Solidarity contends that lifting the state of disaster would not imply that Covid-19 had disappeared but only meant the “disastrous consequences” that justified an initial lockdown no longer existed.

“It is not about whether we are finally done with the virus or that the virus has disappeared,” Hermann explained.

“If that has to be the criterion, then we will forever be subject to a command council with few checks and balances to regulate it.”

Hermann added that Covid-19 had become manageable without the drastic measures enabled by the national state of disaster.

“All indications point to the fact that the disease is now endemic. The virus will be with us for a long time, but the disaster is over.”

Solidarity court application to declare state of disaster invalid

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State of disaster legal challenge launched