The Free Market Foundation (FMF) opposes various recent government initiatives to prolong COVID-19 lockdown measures. All such measures must be scrapped and a return to the pre-March 2020 legal position must be expedited. South Africans have waited patiently for too long to see constitutional government and their civil liberties restored.
Government has not only proposed to prolong lockdown measures beyond the end of the state of disaster, but once those measures reach their sunset, the government has additionally proposed regulations under both the Labour Relations Act and the National Health Act that have the effect of making some lockdown restrictions permanent features of South African law.
The labour regulations have the effect of requiring employers to vaccinate their employees against COVID-19, and the health regulations give officials the power to effectively order lockdowns in the future for any number of public health reasons.
“The Constitution and national legislation require exceptional circumstances to justify the kinds of deprivations of constitutional rights we have seen over the last two years,” says Martin van Staden, FMF Executive Committee member. “But the government is now trying to institutionalise powers permanently for itself, regardless of whether those exceptional circumstances, like a public health emergency, are present.”
Since March 2020, the FMF has taken the position that government must comport its behaviour strictly with the Constitution and the requirements of the Rule of Law when it formulates and promulgates lockdown restrictions. The government has fallen short of this standard, and now proposes to replace the standard entirely with its own regime. The economic destruction wrought as a result of government’s disregard for constitutional safeguards must also not be forgotten.
“This is dangerous to economic freedom and civil liberty in a country that has a long history of governments giving themselves special powers to infringe on the individual rights and freedoms that are universally recognised,” explains Van Staden. “We do a disservice to those who fought for constitutional democracy if we allow government to get away with this initiative.”