The salt being rubbed into government wounds may just sting a little bit more on Thursday morning, after Cabinet were left facing another nightmare scenario: Our State of Disaster laws officially expire on Sunday 14 June, and should our elected officials fail to extend the deadline, SA’s lockdown will officially cease to exist.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN WHEN THE STATE OF DISASTER ENDS?
The revelations come in a week where the Pretoria High Court ruled that our current restrictions were ‘unconstitutional’, and needed altering within 14 business days. However, with the clock ticking down zero hour, it now seems that the government won’t even get that long to make a decision.
Section 27 of the Disaster Management Act, which came into force on 14 March, states the following criteria for a legal declaration:
A national state of disaster that has been declared in terms of subsection (1)
(a) Lapses three months after it has been declared.
(b) May be terminated by the Minister by notice in the Gazette before it lapses.
(c) May be extended by the Minister by notice in the Gazette for one month at a time before it lapses.
WHAT CAN THE GOVERNMENT DO TO ‘SAVE THEIR LOCKDOWN’?
There are, however, options available for the government and COGTA Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. They can simply choose to act on the above, and introduce a one-month extension every 31 days. There are no limits on how many times a state of disaster can have a monthly rollover.
Alternatively, the government could simply let the clock run down on these current rules and declare a new state of disaster – complete with an amended set of guidelines that appease Tuesday’s High Court verdict – which would then last for another three months, with a review only needed by mid-September.
There’s even a third option that is a bit left-field, but would help to keep lockdown in place. Dlamini-Zuma, with approval of President Ramaphosa, could instead choose to plunge South Africa into a ‘State of Emergency’. Initially serving as a 21-day measure, this can eventually be extended by three months each time. However, this option would need overwhelming Parliamentary approval and opens up a legal minefield.
WEIGHING UP THE SITUATION
But both the Disaster Management Act and the National Coronavirus Command Council – each pivotal in dictating how South Africans can live their lives through the COVID-19 crisis – are facing legal challenges to their very existence. If we get another verdict like the one we saw on Tuesday, which completely defied the government’s will, it’s not impossible that lockdown could be ended completely.
The most likely end for lockdown would have to be a conscious decision by the government, though. They have options to choose from when it comes to extending these regulations, and although the 14 June deadline looms, there is plenty of room for political manoeuver.