Lockdown poses 'threat' to political, economic freedoms of South Africans

15 May 2020 - 09:02 By Nomahlubi Jordaan
Residents of Eldorado Park, Johannesburg, during the lockdown.
Residents of Eldorado Park, Johannesburg, during the lockdown.
Image: Sunday Times/Alon Skuy

The Institute of Race Relations (IRR) has warned that the “economic damage” from the lockdown will be catastrophic, particularly for poor South Africans.

“Now that it has become clear that the lockdown is not a temporary phenomenon but a fixture for the foreseeable future, it is all the more vital to examine the threat it poses to the political and economic freedoms of all South Africans,” said Dr Anthea Jeffery, head of policy at the institute.

Jeffrey was speaking at a media briefing on Thursday, which coincided with the release of her report titled “Keeping Liberty Alive”.

The report, the IRR said, noted that major restrictions on political and economic freedoms had not been counterbalanced by evident health gains.

“Even the initial hard lockdown proved unable sufficiently to slow the transmission of the virus in the many teeming townships and informal settlements where social distancing and regular handwashing cannot be achieved.

“This is why the reproduction rate of the virus [the R number], despite an initial fall as imported infections were reduced, has remained above 1 in all subsequent weeks of the lockdown,” said the report.

It pointed out that, while the national State of Disaster had not suspended any of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution (such as rights to human dignity, equality, and just administrative action, as well as rights of assembly, demonstration and free speech, along with freedom of movement, freedom of association, and freedom of trade, occupation, and profession), the lockdown “infringes all these rights in various ways”.

The report said that most of the lockdown rules were not “reasonable and justifiable”.’

Dr Jeffery said that if liberty “is to be kept alive, it is vital to challenge every unreasonable and unjustifiable decision – from the irrationality of specific rules to the constitutionality of the lockdown as a whole.

“It is also important for South Africans to think ahead to the period beyond the virus, when the key need will be to revive and reinvigorate the economy after the devastation resulting from the lockdown,” Jeffrey said. 


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