As government remains inundated by pending litigation challenging certain provisions of the Disaster Management Act, President Cyril Ramaphosa has reiterated that the priority of the lockdown regulations remains that of saving lives.
In his weekly online letter to the nation, the President said the State’s every decision is informed by the need to advance the rights to life and dignity as set out in the Constitution.
Since the start of the crisis, several NGOs, private citizens, business organisations, religious bodies and political parties approached courts across the country challenging aspects of the lockdown.
“Some have succeeded in their legal challenges and some have not. Some had approached the courts on the basis of the urgency of their cases, had their urgent arguments dismissed and others have found other avenues for the relief they sought. Others have subsequently withdrawn their applications following engagement with government,” the President said.
President Ramaphosa said the government had checks and balances in place to ensure that every aspect of governance is able to withstand constitutional scrutiny.
“Where we are found wanting, we will be held to account by our courts and, above all, by our citizens. Besides our courts, our Chapter 9 institutions exist to advance the rights of citizens, as do the bodies tasked with oversight over the law enforcement agencies,” he said.
There has been, and will continue to be, a robust and strident critique of a number of aspects of government’s national response to Coronavirus, from the data modelling and projections to the economic effects of the lockdown, to the regulations, he said.
“As a government, we have neither called for such a critique to be tempered or for it to be silenced.
“To the contrary, criticism, where it is constructive, helps us to adapt and to move with agility in response to changing circumstances and conditions. It enriches public debate and gives us all a broader understanding of the issues at play.
“We have consistently maintained that we rely on scientific, economic and empirical data when it comes to making decisions and formulating regulations around our Coronavirus response. To the greatest extent possible under these challenging circumstances, we aim for consultation and engagement. We want all South Africans to be part of this national effort. The voices of ordinary citizens must continue to be heard at a time as critical as this,” he said.
The President conceded that while progress had been made delaying the transmission of COVID-19, the virus had caused huge disruption and hardship.
“There is still a long way to go. The weeks and months ahead will be difficult and will demand much more from our people.”
The pandemic will, therefore, continue to place an enormous strain on society and institutions," he wrote.
He added: “As we navigate these turbulent waters, our Constitution is our most important guide and our most valued protection. Our robust democracy provides the strength and resilience we need to overcome this deep crisis.”
President Ramaphosa added that while government appreciates that most court applicants are motivated by the common good, the public should recognise that the decisions taken by the government are made in good faith and are meant to advance, and not to harm, the interests of South Africans.