South Africa

LOCKDOWN ANALYSIS

Level 3 regulations clear as mud amid ministerial micromanagement

Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel, left, Minister of Co-operative Governance Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, centre, and Justice Minister Ronald Lamola. (Photos: GCIS)

The Covid-19 lockdown Level 3 regulations seemed to shift the approach from lists of what’s permitted – like short-sleeved T-shirts as undergarments – to expressly stipulating what’s not allowed. It’s an important shift, from control to collaboration. That’s until the securocrat micromanagers got going at Thursday’s ministerial briefing.

Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel started talking of a “letter from employers for workers”, as did Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. Police Minister Bheki Cele followed suit.

Except no “letter from employer” exists in the Level 3 Covid-19 lockdown regulations. And a permit is required only for movement across provincial, district and metro boundaries, or declared coronavirus hotspots.

Following a request for clarification during Thursday’s briefings, Cele responded by saying movement restrictions still applied under Regulation 33: “permit for workers falls under that”. 

Except it doesn’t.

According to Regulation 33(1)(b), “any person may leave his or her place of residence… to travel to and from work”. No word of a permit or letter.

A permit, not a letter, is only needed for travel for work across boundaries of provinces, metros or hotspots. Regulation 33(4)(a) stipulates a person crossing such boundaries must be “in possession of a permit issued by the employer that corresponds with Form 2 of Annexure A”. Effectively, that’s the essential and permitted services permit of Covid-19 lockdown regulations at Level 5 and Level 4.

Thursday’s ministerial talk of “letters” and workers’ permits muddied the waters as Cele persisted in taking a hard line on behalf of his police:

“Although there’ll be more people moving now… People going to work will get permission from employers to work… There will be roadblocks. You will show us you are from work, you explain you are from the doctors, you explain to us you come from groceries…”

Around eight million employees are set to resume work as all but a few sectors reopen fully. Easing the Covid-19 lockdown to Level 3 is part of government’s push to reopen the economy to remedy the hard lockdown that triggered hunger, recession and social distress.

On Sunday, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a pragmatic decision to move the whole country to lockdown Level 3. Even if seven of the eight metros are coronavirus hotspots – they are on notice to control infection rates or move back into tougher lockdown – South Africa’s economic productivity is in these urban centres.

Following a series of consultations with labour, business, opposition leaders and traditional and religious leaders, a regulatory emphasis fell on collaboration and co-operation.

And so the Covid-19 lockdown Level 3 regulations clearly outline what’s not permitted, rather than the previous compilations of lists of what’s permitted that triggered a capricious exercise of power by bureaucrats and security services. 

“If it is prohibited to be sold, it is prohibited to be bought… Police have a right to seek the receipt of where you have bought the cigarettes… The onus is on you to tell us, where did you buy those cigarettes.”

This was a significant move away from what Intellidex analyst Peter Attard Montalto calls “microeconomic fiddlers”. It’s the attitude reflected, for example, in determining sales of short-sleeved T-shirts only as undergarments, companies restarting at 30% capacity at a predetermined pace and permits required for anything from moving house, or into a domestic violence shelter.

But the microeconomic fiddlers and securocrats pulled one back in Thursday’s briefings with the talk of companies’ daily Covid-19 screening and other protocols like workplace hygiene, roadblocks, workers’ permits and, as the official statement put it, how the security cluster would “be ensuring that the public adheres to the regulations”.

And so what seemed a fundamental mindset shift in favour of the constitutionalists in Cabinet ended up signalling ongoing divisions within Cabinet, and the National Coronavirus Command Council.

“Drive-through and pick-up services will be open, and you will be able to collect. And you go to a supermarket, you will be able to get the grilled chicken,” said Patel. 

On Thursday, Cele not only promised more roadblocks, particularly in hotspots, but reiterated how his police would insist on receipts for cigarettes from any smoker stopped.

“If it is prohibited to be sold, it is prohibited to be bought… Police have a right to seek the receipt of where you have bought the cigarettes… The onus is on you to tell us, where did you buy those cigarettes.”

Under Covid-19 lockdown Level 3, tobacco remains banned, although products like cigarettes can be transported for export. That ban remained in place even as alcohol sales for home consumption will be allowed for the first time in two months – Monday to Thursdays from 9am to 5pm.

The regulations from 1 June list several clear-cut prohibitions: No initiation schools this winter season. No night vigils. No social gatherings. No gyms or athletics clubs. No sit-down dining. No shebeens, bars, nightclubs, cinemas, theatres and conferencing. No hairdressers, or nail and beauty salons. No access to beaches or parks. 

Restaurants may open only for take-away deliveries, or for people to collect food.

“Drive-through and pick-up services will be open, and you will be able to collect. And you go to a supermarket, you will be able to get the grilled chicken,” said Patel. 

Face masks in public are a must.

Then there’s the stuff that’s clearly permitted, with strict health protocols like physical distancing, face masks and handwashing:

Religious services of no more than 50 people. Funerals of no more than 50 people. Going to work (unless you’re a hairdresser, waiter, barman and such). Going to school or higher education institutions, once they reopen. Non-contact sports matches without spectators. Exercise, although not in groups, between 6am and 6pm.

And while limited domestic business air travel will be allowed from a future date, interprovincial travel remains prohibited except in certain circumstances – and mostly with permits.

For work, an essential or permitted work permit from the employer is required, and funerals require the necessary official affidavit-based permit. Moving house across provincial borders, or moving to look after an immediate family member, can only be done with a prescribed affidavit form sworn before a magistrate or police official. Similarly, learners and students may cross provincial, district or metro boundaries with a permit form completed by the principal or head of institution.

Travel across provincial boundaries is allowed for medical treatment, to return home from a quarantine facility, and to transport cargo.

Discussions, and not just about the tobacco ban, are hard and extensive. They can go either way until the last minute, depending on the lobbying’s persuasiveness.

Regardless of the easing of the Covid-19 lockdown, the overriding public messaging was to still stay home – and to take individual responsibility to adhere to health protocols like physical distancing and to keep an eye out on others to do the same.

“Through collaboration and concerted actions, we will better target our interventions, so that we see a brighter and better South Africa, beyond the virus. All the measures we have implemented are difficult, but necessary,” said Dlamini Zuma. “We must endure today so as to secure the future of this beautiful nation.”

But at Cabinet, and in the National Coronavirus Command Council, whose legitimacy is being contested in court, the prevailing sentiment has not been settled in the contest between the constitutionalists and the “microeconomic fiddlers” and the securocrats.

Discussions, and not just about the tobacco ban, are hard and extensive. They can go either way until the last minute, depending on the lobbying’s persuasiveness.

Several ministers, including transport, arts, culture and sports, tourism and trade and industry, will over the next few days release their specific executive directives. And those may yet introduce further lockdown Level 3 restrictions.

Close scrutiny is needed. DM

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