Locked-in on Freedom Day: Proposals for Level 4

Johannes Wessels

Point of departure

The following is EOSA’s position concerning the lockdown as a measure to combat the spread of the Covid 19 virus:

It is false to be locked into the binary notion that it is either about saving lives or about growing the economy. That dichotomy is based on the incorrect assumptions that:

  • lock-down will not cause the death of thousands of enterprises and jobs, or  that should that happen,
  • such a decline will not have any impact on the well-being of people and that it would pose no threat to the wellbeing and livelihoods of the population.

The well-being of our democracy is at stake

EOSA is committed to the guaranteed constitutional right to freedom of movement and choice. The lock-down regulations that nullify these rights are dangerous to more than the lives and dignity of people (think about the abuses by members of the police and the defence force) and the livelihoods of people (the damage to the economy, businesses and the government’s budget deficit). The regulations are in fact dangerous for the well-being of our democracy.

A balance should therefore be sought: regulations should promote and protect both lives and livelihoods and all these should be tested against the constitutional guarantees.

As and when the constitutional freedoms are impacted upon by regulations (as is currently the case) full disclosure is required so that the premises on which the measures to combat the perceived threat can be evaluated and tested in the court of public opinion.  In addition, parliament and its committees should be seen to be able to exercise oversight on all administrative actions based on decrees issued under the state of disaster.

During full lock-down, the government had not – based on information in the public domain – paid sufficient consideration for the implications of the regulations on the economic well-being of society.  

Proposals for Level 4 (Public sector)

The leading principle should be which services can be resumed to speed up processes to minimise a further lag on economic processes.  The re-opening of crucial components of the public service is therefore required, including:

  • The department of home affairs should become operational with citizens being able to make by internet and/or call centre appointments for visits. The number of visitors can be determined by what the respective home affairs offices can manage with implementing safe physical distancing for appointees.
  • The same applies for vehicle registration and drivers’ licences.
  • The Deeds Registrar Offices should become functional without delay.  The same applied for the offices of the surveyor general.
  • Hospitals that had been emptied to prepare space for Covid 19 patients, should at least be allowed to proceed with operations and treatments. It is not for the government to decide whether a hip replacement or cancer treatment is an emergency procedure or not.
  • Municipalities should operationalise system to enable the functioning of a range of services, including receiving and evaluating building plans, rezoning submissions, the issuing of rates clearance certificates. All of these require minimal person-to-person contact.

All municipalities and provincial and national departments should maintain interactive websites and call centres to handle enquiries.

Proposals for Level 4 (Private sector)

The leading principle should be that no business should be harmed if it could conduct business without jeopardising the health situation.  If conditions would occur around these business operations that could be harmful, e.g. more than 50 people queueing at a business premise, it is the responsibility of the government that introduced the state of disaster measures to provide the manpower for protection and organising the customers in queues that maintain the required physical distancing.

In view of these:

  • All factories and shops should be allowed to reopen (with a scaled-down workforce if the workplace cannot accommodate all employees without compromising physical distancing).
  • There should be no restrictions on e-commerce or courier services.  Minister Patel’s decision to prohibit e-commerce because it would amount to “unfair competition”, is a typical Luddite reaction.
  • At retail level, shops should allow customers inside considering the physical distancing requirements.  Formal shops cannot be penalised in this, whilst spaza shops where physical distancing is a pipe dream, are allowed to operate. (Mr Patel, this restriction amounts to unfair competition).
  • Restaurants should be allowed to prepare and sell meals, either for delivery or for collection by customers.
  • Services requiring manageable person-to-person interaction (attorneys, real estate agents, investment advisers, dentists, optometrists, doctors, home maintenance service providers, hairdressers, etc.) should be allowed without delay.

Proposals for Level 4 (Individual level)

The leading principle should be respect for individual dignity and freedom as guaranteed by the Constitution. It is ironic that on Freedom Day one has to write about this, but there is NO SUBSTANCE for the government:

  • Preventing people to exercise by walking, jogging, cycling, or walking their dogs. Social sport like playing tennis or golf that doesn’t involve physical closeness as in rugby or soccer (no physical distancing regulation will keep team mates away from the goal scorer) should be allowed. The fact that these avenues of keeping physically and emotionally fit and healthy are not available to each and every individual, gives no right to the government to prevent those that can exercise these rights from enjoying those rights.
  • Deciding on behalf of people what they can buy and what not (the unconstitutional limitation by government of the individual’s right to decide what he/she wants to buy by distinguishing between so-called essential goods and non-essential goods).
  • Deciding where one should buy and where not: the poor in the townships are often forced and prevented from going to the nearest large retail store and tales of having to pay R18 for a half loaf at a spaza shop is becoming common.  An individual should, if he/she maintains the required physical distancing deemed necessary, be able to buy at any retailer anywhere.
  • Assessing whether an eye test or dental procedure is to be allowed as an “emergency” procedure or not. It is the individual’s right to have the treatments required to maintain their dignity and health.

On measures government could take to revitalise the economy, see Enterprises, unlike bears, don’t hibernate.

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