Don’t talk about ending the State of Disaster, just do it – John Steenhuisen

DA leader says president needs to look for alternative protocols instead of relying on Disaster Management Act

Don’t talk about ending the State of Disaster, Mr President. Do it.

20 January 2022

Note to Editors: Please find attached voicenote from the DA Federal Leader John Steenhuisen MP.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) welcomes the remarks by President Cyril Ramaphosa, reported yesterday, that alternative legislative measures will be considered by government to the National State of Disaster. We call on him to immediately lift the State of Disaster along with the remaining lockdown regulations.

Speaking at the launch of a new vaccine manufacturing facility in Cape Town, President Ramaphosa referred to falling Covid infections and the need to look to alternative health protocols instead of relying on the Disaster Management Act. In his words: “There is a good argument to be put forward that, now that we are where we are, should we not examine and look at other methods that we can use?”

This has been the DA’s position all along, which is why we challenged the constitutionality of Section 27 of the Disaster Management Act, the mechanism that allows government to make extra-parliamentary laws under the declaration of a National State of Disaster. That matter is currently before the Constitutional Court.

It is also critical that all schools be allowed to open fully, immediately, and that rotational schooling is called off nation-wide. There are very low expectations of this week’s matric results announcement, and this is a direct result of the hundreds of school days lost over the past two years. For some time now this rotational schooling has disproportionately affected poor learners, as the top quintile schools have mostly returned to full-time classes. There is no justification for this widening inequality.

There is now a global trend towards this position. Yesterday the British Prime Minister announced what he called “a return to Plan A” - essentially an abandonment of most emergency lockdown measures, including mandatory mask wearing in public and in classrooms. He spoke of trusting the judgement of the people. Our President needs to exhibit the same trust.

As I also said to President Ramaphosa last week, the repeated extension of the National State of Disaster creates a dangerous constitutional convention, and economic recovery will be impossible with the sword of lockdown dangling over the country. Businesses will remain hesitant to invest and take on staff as long as restrictions can be reintroduced with the stroke of a pen.

On Sunday we asked that the CoGTA Minister, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, appear before Parliament to explain the rationale behind her latest extension of the proclamation - on our count the 21st time the minister has done so without public consultation and parliamentary concurrence. The questions that we want the Minister to answer include the following:

- Why should a National State of Disaster remain in place, even if evidence suggests that the Omicron variant is less harmful than previous strands of the virus?

- Why, after nearly two years under a National State of Disaster, has government not devised alternative laws and policies to deal with health-related disasters?

- And, if it is absolutely necessary to declare a National State of Disaster in future, when it actually exists, what prevents the government from doing so at such time?

And so, the President's assurance that government is considering alternatives to the use of the Disaster Management Act are welcome, but this now needs to be followed up with immediate action.

Issued by John Steenhuisen, Leader of the Democratic Alliance, 20 January 2022