Following the country moving down to Level 1 of the nationwide lockdown, South Africans welcomed the easing of regulations—as these extreme rules caused major backlashes on us and our economy, and therefore, are only to be used in times of extreme national threat. But is the government looking at the restrictions from a power-play angle?
This follows Dr Zweli Mkhize, the health minister, publishing several new proposals to change the National Health Act’s regulations on notifiable diseases. If accepted, these proposals will extend the government’s powers to deal with COVID-19 and other health issues.
The proposals will not only allow the government to handle health-related issues as they see fit, but it will allow the minister of health to impose restrictions on South Africans. Even when the country is not facing a national disaster.
Dr Mkhize presented these regulations during a portfolio committee meeting on health on 13 October 2020. It was during the meeting, that Dr Zweli explained to the attendees that the regulations would provide them with the necessary ammunition to combat the pandemic and other crises.
However, it will also provide him with powers very similar to what was given to the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, at the height of the Disaster Management Act.
The restrictions which Dr Mkhize would like to see implemented, include:
- Complete or partial closing of any public place. This includes a place used for public receptions, tourist activities or events or public recreation, amusement or entertainment activities or events.
- Prohibition of movements between districts and provinces of people.
- Imposing further curfews for people to remain indoors.
- Closing of educational institutions.
Looking at the prospect of the government imposing further restrictions on South Africans, the Democratic Alliance has voiced its concerns.
DA MP and spokesperson on health, Siviwe Gwarube says, “It gives an impression of a government desperate to retain power over its citizens even outside of a legitimate State of Disaster by giving powers to the Minister which will allow him and the Executive to impose far-reaching restrictions.”
Furthermore, she said the regulations give the Minister of Health, or more broadly, the Executive, unlimited powers to impose restrictions that will impede civil liberties.
Gwarube elaborates, “More importantly, these powers conferred to the Minister via the backdoor of the regulations make no provision for Parliamentary oversight and allow the Executive to impose restrictions without any checks and balances.”
While she explains that parliament is not legally required to vote and pass on regulations, she believes these specific regulations have far-reaching consequences.
Therefore, she stresses that it is paramount they must be brought to the full sitting of Parliament accompanied by a legal opinion sourced from Parliament’s legal services.
Gwarube adds, “These regulations must be debated and adopted by the House and cannot be snuck through the back door; in the middle of the night; 24 hours before the State of Disaster is meant to expire. This is why the Democratic Alliance (DA) will be writing to the presiding officers of Parliament to request that this be done as a matter of urgency.”
Over the past seven months, South Africans have found themselves frustrated with several of the regulations. Especially those which were nonsensical.
With this in mind, Gwarube says, “We cannot allow this state of affairs to be normalized as though we do not live in a Constitutional democracy.”
As the government considers implementing further restrictions in our lives, what are your thoughts? Do you feel the government is taking advantage of the pandemic? Or do you feel they are justified?
Share your thoughts and views with us in the comment section below.