Trade union Solidarity and civil rights group Afriforum have announced a legal challenge to South Africa’s state of disaster.
The national state of disaster was initially introduced in March 2020 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
It was most recently extended by Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma until 15 February. The minister said that the extension was necessary to augment the existing legislation and contingency arrangements undertaken by the organs of state to address the impact of the disaster.
However, Afriforum and Solidarity argue that the pandemic is now entering an endemic phase and that the state of disaster is no longer fit for purpose.
“The fact that the virus is now endemic means the virus won’t disappear, but we will have to learn to live with the virus. It also means that exceptional measures by the state, such as those that can be instituted under a state of disaster, are no longer necessary in an effort to control the virus,” said Solidarity Movement chairperson Flip Buys.
Both AfriForum and Solidarity said they will proceed with legal action to ask the courts to end the state of disaster.
Kallie Kriel, chief executive of AfriForum said the state of disaster poses a threat to freedom, as it gives the government extraordinary power to dramatically restrict civil liberties without subjecting such power to parliamentary oversight and decision-making in any way.
“The fact that the state of disaster can be prolonged repeatedly without parliamentary approval is a serious violation of sound democratic principles,” he said.
Solidarity chief executive Dr Dirk Hermann said the current state of disaster creates major uncertainty for workers, companies and the economy in general, and it must therefore be terminated.
“The state of disaster enables the government to implement at short notice measures that affect the livelihood of businesses and workers. This sword hanging over the economy creates uncertainty that hampers capital formation and further expansion at a time when economic growth is crucially important,” Hermann said.
Business group Sakeliga has also issued a letter of demand calling for the mandatory end to the ‘national state of disaster’.
In the letter, the group demanded that the National Disaster Management Centre’s (NDMC) head of centre, Dr Mmaphaka Tau reassess and rescind his classification of Covid-19 as a ‘national disaster’ by 28 January 2022.
Failing reassessment and recission of the initial classification by 28 January, Sakeliga will seek to compel the Head of Centre to reassess under section 23 of the DMA and will consider seeking urgent relief under section 172 of the Constitution of South Africa.
Sakeliga’s argues that by lifting the ‘national disaster’ classification of Covid-19 and requiring clear and comprehensive justification for reinstating a ‘state of disaster’, businesses and the general public will experience immediate relief in the form of:
A significant rebound in tourism;
The normalisation of commerce, hospitality, and travel;
Greater investment planning certainty as the country is no longer subject to erratic policy decisions;
A reduction in compliance costs and effort in implementing rules issued under the state of disaster; and
Social stabilisation flowing from the recovery of employment after more than a million job losses from lockdown policies.