Opposition parties, civil society and business groups have welcomed the government’s move to lift South Africa’s national state of disaster after almost two years – but almost all of them caution that the government has not totally relinquished control.
“The national state of disaster is ending in name, but the government is not relinquishing its regulatory powers obtained under it – this is what yesterday’s announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa entailed,” said business group Sakeliga.
The group said it will reject replacing temporary disaster measures with permanent interventions and will therefore continue its work to oppose such measures and restore normality.
“We are considering litigation and other options as a matter of urgency. Evidently, the government is “lifting” the temporary national state of disaster merely to stave off active litigation and loss of legitimacy, by couching it in new political configurations designed for permanency.”
“In the next few weeks, businesses, churches, employees, schools, universities, civil society organisations, and the public in all other spheres of society need to decide whether or not to comply with the new regulatory regime. Crucial decisions lie ahead, about not only litigation but also compliance and refusal, in the face of such abuse of power by the state.”
Civil society group Afriforum also said that the ending of the country’s state of disaster is merely symbolic and the announcement will do little to change the status quo.
It noted that current Covid-19 regulations will remain in place for a further month, after which the government’s new health regulations will come into force.
“The new health regulations amount to the permanent legal enactment of supposedly temporary measures afforded to the government under the Disaster Management Act. This means that most of the Covid-19 measures will remain in place, and some measures that were struck down in court such as forced quarantine will take effect again.”
Afriforum said it is also preparing legal commentary in opposition to the new health regulations.
These concerns are largely echoed by the opposition Democratic Alliance who said that government aims to ‘normalise’ lockdown restrictions under the Health Act.
The regulations are not informed by the latest scientific evidence or expert opinions of various experts both in South Africa and abroad, it said.
“It seems that president Ramaphosa has reneged on his word when he promised South Africans that no one will be forced to receive the Covid-19 vaccination, or that South Africa would soon do away with the national state of disaster and accompanying regulations.”
“The people of South Africa cannot afford to be kept in further lockdowns after an already turbulent two years of hardship and restrictions of their basic human rights.”
The Economic Freedom Fighters, the country’s third-largest political party, said that its plans to further study the government’s proposed health regulations but cited concerns about their long-term validity.
“We just ensure that this government does not smuggle regulations into law, which will give them the power to micro-manage the political terrain and enhance their ability to conduct illegal and corrupt procurement.”