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Daily Maverick ‘takes aim at politicians batting for SA’s most vulnerable’

From left, Democratic Alliance leader John Steenhuisen, Professor Glenda Gray, Professor Salim Abdool Karim, Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize. (Photos: Gallo Images / Ziyaad Douglas | Gallo Images / Foto24 /Bongiwe Gumede) | Gallo Images | Phill Magakoe / Gallo Images via Getty)

The purpose of the hard lockdown was to give government enough time to build additional health capacity ahead of the inevitable spike in infections. Yet, eight weeks later, the vast majority of South Africans remain locked out of the economy, increasingly desperate at home, unable to put food on the table.

In her article “Lockdown squabbling and false Covid-19 certainty will endanger us all” Rebecca Davis attempts to draw a false equivalence between Trumpian views expressed by Republican politicians in the US during the Covid-19 crisis and recent comments made by Democratic Alliance (DA) Western Cape provincial leader Bonginkosi Madikizela. 

Davis describes Madikizela’s responses to what she terms “pandemic mitigation strategies” as “shrill and irrational” concluding that some “stir-nuttery is afoot”. 

All things considered, the obvious stir-nuttery afoot is a journalist using such language about the growing calls (from scientific experts, industry leaders and ordinary citizens) to end the hard lockdown which Madikizela quite aptly described as state-mandated “house arrest”. 

It is truly incredible that, amid all the irrational and arbitrary executive actions the lockdown has enabled, Davis chooses to take aim at politicians going to bat on behalf of South Africa’s most vulnerable citizens who are defenceless against the increasing tyranny and arbitrary diktat of power-drunk Cabinet ministers. 

That the semantics of Madikizela’s phraseology warrant even an iota of the author’s attention in the face of overwhelming evidence of wholesale executive overreach, deliberate prohibition of parliamentary oversight, and the widespread social and economic devastation wrought across our nation by the protracted lockdown, requires robust rebuttal. 

The purpose of Madikizela’s statement was to support Premier Alan Winde’s call for the Western Cape to move to Level 3 as well as to support DA interim leader John Steenhuisen’s calls for a nationwide end to the Level 4 lockdown. 

Madikizela noted that, “this current house-arrest is not only causing a major economic crisis but puts the lives of the very same people the ANC pretends to care about in jeopardy”. 

He is right. In fact it was an understatement. 

It is common cause that the purpose of the hard lockdown was to give the government enough time to build additional health capacity ahead of the inevitable spike in infections. Yet, eight weeks later, in one of the longest global lockdowns, the vast majority of South Africans remain locked out of the economy, increasingly desperate at home, unable to put food on the table. 

As members of Parliament, we are inundated daily by a never-ending stream of requests from desperate South Africans who have lost their jobs and whose businesses are tanking. National Treasury estimates unemployment is set to increase by between 30-70% – meaning that between three and seven million more people will lose their jobs before the pandemic is over. 

Since the hard lockdown began, South Africa has also witnessed an unprecedented and unfettered extension of executive authority, with many decisions taken by the National Command Council (NCC) being secretive, unsubstantiated and often wholly irrational.

Under the Disaster Management Act, a small coterie of Cabinet ministers have turned themselves into a legislative arm of state, enacting 40 sets of highly intrusive regulations that have a profound impact on fundamental constitutional rights, without any oversight whatsoever.

This is why the DA is challenging the constitutionality of the act that enables such violations. 

First, the Speaker of Parliament refused the DA’s request to establish an ad hoc parliamentary oversight committee to monitor the conduct of the NCC, with the result that few experts, specialists and legislators have had sight of any evidence substantiating the increasingly arbitrary and unilateral decisions being taken on behalf of 57 million lives. 

A massive deployment of our armed forces then ensued, with a military enforced night curfew subsequently announced. This was followed by an arbitrary ban on cigarettes, liquor, e-commerce, hot food sales and deliveries. Civilian abuses continued to mount, with more people dying during the first week of lockdown at the hands of policemen than of the virus itself. 

South Africa watched as journalists in the field told of crushing police brutality in communities such as Masiphumelele. Young parents were arrested for chasing their moody toddler onto a beach, while a man was beaten to death for carrying beer. 

While calling for national unity in the face of the pandemic, the NCC proceeded to exclude citizens from government-sponsored financial relief packages, based on their race.

A draft document was then circulated by Social Development Minister Zulu’s department requiring a new licence to be obtained from the department for every single day that any charity wanted to distribute food.

Minister Patel later told us we may only buy crop bottom pants to wear with boots and stockings. No open-toe shoes.

Not even a State of Emergency (one step more stringent than a State of Disaster) gives such sweeping powers to Cabinet in the absence of parliamentary oversight provisions. 

While it would be deeply irresponsible of any political party not to support a robust and serious response to the pandemic, this response cannot come at the cost of an additional three to seven million job losses and an unparalleled economic crisis that will send our nation spiralling into the pits of despair for a generation to come. We need a smart, targeted response that balances the imperatives of lives and livelihoods.

As maintained by Madikizela, it is beginning to appear increasingly apparent that the NCC’s response to the pandemic is fast eroding the goodwill of our people, whose insistence on now getting back to work is a matter of equally serious life and death proportions. 

Davis would do well to target her outrage at the “stir-nuttery” abounding in our executive, not the men and women trying to hold them to account. 

As political leaders, it is our duty to remind those in power of the imperative to save lives and prevent an economic bloodbath. Madikizela is on point in his remarks and enjoys the support of the many South Africans who will sooner die of starvation than of Covid-19 as a result of their “house arrest”. DM

Emma Louise Powell is a DA MP.

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