Covid-19

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Cabinet extends State of Disaster – and appeals judgment against Covid-19 lockdown rules 

The Cabinet meeting was a special one called in response to Tuesday’s Pretoria High Court judgment. But, crucially, the meeting also extended the Covid-19 lockdown.

A special Cabinet meeting on Thursday extended the State of Disaster to 15 July – the first of possibly many other one-month extensions. And government is bringing out its top guns to appeal the Pretoria High Court ruling declaring most lockdown regulations unconstitutional and invalid.

Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu reiterated several times that the Covid-19 lockdown regulations remained in force, given government’s appeal.

That would have been the case anyway, as the Pretoria High Court had suspended its ruling of invalidity for 14 days, to give Cooperative Governance Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma time to review and amend the regulations, which the court found did not rationally link purpose and objective (Court gives government 14 days to alter ‘unconstituti…).

While Dlamini Zuma may have delegated deposing statements in that court case to her Cogta director-general, in the appeal President Cyril Ramaphosa and Health Minister Zweli Mkhize now join Dlamini Zuma.

It is a clear signal how criticism of the Covid-19 lockdown and its regulations has touched a nerve in the government that has made the coronavirus pandemic a central driver of its programmes, even if the precise direction remains contested between securocrats, micromanagers and constitutionalists (Ceding control to faceless securocrats and unaccountabl…).

In a televised briefing, Mthembu firmly linked the Covid-19 lockdown regulations with saving lives. 

“Without those regulations we can’t save lives. We can’t save the lives of our loved ones; we can’t save lives or our children. That’s why we are appealing.”

Thursday’s Cabinet meeting was a special one called in response to Tuesday’s Pretoria High Court judgment. But, crucially, the meeting also extended the Covid-19 lockdown.

The one-month extension to 15 July is permissible under the Disaster Management Act, which limits the initial declaration of a State of Disaster to a maximum of three months. The law allows a one-month extension, but after that it is unclear whether there could be further extensions.

However, it appears Cabinet believes the one-month extension could well be the first of others. Or as Mthembu put it:

“We can extend on a month to month basis. The Cabinet has resolved after the expiration of the initial three months, we will extend it by another [month]. If there is a need for us to extend again in July, based on scientific evidence, we will do so. Because the law allows us to extend month by month.”

Described as one of the most draconian in the world, South Africa’s Covid-19 lockdown may now also become one of the world’s longest.

The legality of the Disaster Management Act is one of several other court challenges government faces over the lockdown, aside from the pending tobacco ban challenges and Tuesday’s judgment that ruled invalid most lockdown rules.

Asked whether these court cases questioned government decision-making on the Covid-19 hard lockdown, Mthembu came out in defence of what government had initiated.

“Our decision-making can’t be queried. Our decision-making was spot on. Our decision-making managed to save many lives.” DM

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