Home South African DA threatens to challenge curfew

DA threatens to challenge curfew

124
SHARE

The party is believed to be consulting lawyers after it submitted comment to the government on its proposals for the restrictions that will remain under Level 4 of the lockdown, as the phase that will kick in on Friday is termed.

CAPE TOWN – The Democratic Alliance (DA) is mulling a legal challenge to the South African government’s plans to introduce a curfew from Friday, when the nationwide complete lockdown in response to the Covid-19 health crisis will be eased across most of the country.

The party is believed to be consulting lawyers after it submitted comment to the government on its proposals for the restrictions that will remain under Level 4 of the lockdown, as the phase that will kick in on Friday is termed.

DA leader John Steenhuisen said the official opposition believes Level 4 has been intended to allow a greater range of economic activity than that proposed by the government and the move to impose a curfew smacks of authoritarianism.

The move to Level 4 of the lockdown is meant to allow for a greater level of economic activity, but there is far too little to distinguish Level 4 from Level 5, and thus Level 4 inadequately balances the looming economic crisis, Steenhuisen said.

“The DA supports a much wider opening of the economy,” he said, adding that no evidence underpinned the government’s reasoning on the level of ongoing restrictions.

“There has been little to no transparency around the data or analysis being used to guide the government’s response. Secondly, a wider opening can still achieve the same level of public safety if the government changes its approach from one based on force to one based on trust.”

He returned to the subject of trust in opposing the lockdown, suggesting the state could achieve more compliance with health precautions if it fostered goodwill rather than resorted to force.

It emerged that President Cyril Ramaphosa has dramatically scaled up the military deployment for the Covid-19 crisis and has put on standby almost all army personnel.

“Government has taken the approach of state control using force, choosing to centralise draconian powers in the hands of incapable ministers and enforce compliance by deploying 75,000 ill-trained South African National Defence Force (SANDF) members, many armed with live ammunition,” Steenhuisen said. 

“Instead, it should be providing direction by harnessing the creativity, incentives and goodwill of everyone, within a reasonable set of rules.”

Steenhuisen said a curfew was an extraordinary limitation of civil liberties that should meet an extraordinarily high threshold before it can be justified. 

“It does not meet that threshold in this case, and the DA is vehemently opposed to the curfew as a matter of principle.”

He cited findings by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) that during the first month of the lockdown, which began on March 27, 99% of South Africans respected the restrictions imposed on them.

Yet Ramaphosa still elected to put 75,460 SANDF members on the street.

“It is therefore highly likely that the SANDF will be used to enforce the curfew between 8pm and 5am every night. This would mean that soldiers are granted the discretionary power to decide whether someone who travels between 8pm and 5am faces a bona fide medical emergency or is performing an essential service. This grants far too wide a scope of powers to the SANDF.”

He said the levels of abuse, including alleged murder, by soldiers witnessed when the army deployment stood at 2,280 soldiers suggested “the curfew is likely to unleash a wave of abuses by the security forces”.

“No amount of force or coercion will bolster compliance in the absence of understanding and trust,” he said.

“If the government fails to heed our warning to rescind the planned enforcement of a military curfew, the DA reserves our right to challenge the move in court, because we place our trust in citizens rather than in coercion.”