South Africa’s Ramaphosa defends lockdown amid legal challenges

FILE PHOTO: President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his State of the Nation address at parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, February 13, 2020. REUTERS/Sumaya Hisham/File Photo
A homeless person stands outside a temporary tent in Pretoria, South Africa, April 15, 2020. South Africa has provided temporary tents and food for the homeless to better control the COVID-19 outbreak. (Photo by Shiraaz Mohamed/Xinhua)

Any government decisions to combat COVID-19 are made in good faith with an aim to protect the interests of South Africans, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Monday in response to a series of legal actions against lockdown restrictions.

“Our foremost priority remains to save lives. Our every decision is informed by the need to advance the rights to life and dignity as set out in our constitution,” Ramaphosa said in his weekly presidential address.

Since the government imposed the lockdown in late March, there have been legal challenges from a number of individuals, religious bodies, political parties, non-governmental organizations and business organizations against one or more of the lockdown provisions they were unhappy with.

The most noticeable legal action targets the ban on tobacco sales.

Ramaphosa also mentioned a private citizen from Mpumalanga Province who approached the court to challenge the travel ban which prohibited him from attending a funeral.

Some have succeeded in their legal challenges, some have not and others have subsequently withdrawn their applications following engagement with the government, according to Ramaphosa.

“While we would prefer to avoid the need for any legal action against government, we should accept that citizens who are unhappy with whatever action that government has decided on implementing have a right to approach our courts for any form of relief they seek,” he said.

This is a normal tenet of a constitutional democracy and a perfectly acceptable practice in a country founded on the rule of law, Ramaphosa said.

The government has neither called for such critique to be tempered nor for it to be silenced, he said.

“To the contrary, criticism, where it is constructive, helps us to adapt and to move with agility in response to changing circumstances and conditions,” the president said.

He maintained that the government relies on scientific, economic and empirical data when it comes to making decisions and formulating regulations around its coronavirus response.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the measures that have been taken to combat it have taken a heavy toll on South Africans, causing huge disruption and hardship, Ramaphosa said.

Although progress has been made in delaying the transmission of the virus, there is still a long way to go, he said.

“The weeks and months ahead will be difficult and will demand much more from our people,” Ramaphosa said.