The Constitutional Lawyers for Democracy (CLD) have sent a letter of demand to President Cyril Ramaphosa calling for him to urgently lift the lockdown and to dissolve the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC), claiming the government had violated a slew of citizens’ constitutional rights, says a report in The Mercury.
The Durban-based group, comprising attorneys Yusuf Ismail and Thembinkosi Luthuli, advocates Christo van Rensburg and Delia Turner, and emeritus Professor George Devenish, acting in their personal capacity as citizens, called on Ramaphosa to “immediately end the lockdown” or “at the very least” reduce it to alert level one “on legal, medical, economic and humanitarian grounds” and to invalidate the NCCC.
The 20-page letter and 123 pages of supporting documents, which include international medical studies on COVID-19, was also sent to Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize. The CLD spokesperson, Ismail, said the lockdown had underpinned “the fascist nature of the state in its abuse of people”.
He said the NCCC appeared to be “compromising parliamentary oversight and opening the door for excess abuse of state power, such as unlawful arrests”. “It makes no sense arresting someone walking in isolation on the road while allowing the unchecked contact between individuals in grocery stores and the massive pension pay-out queues.” He said there was “a growing body of medical expertise” which indicated that the lockdown was not sustainable. “You simply don’t impose a mass Orwellian house arrest on the fit and healthy,” Ismail said.
In its letter, the group said data from best-studied countries showed COVID-19’s lethality was on average 0.2%, which was “in the range of a severe (flu) and about 20 times lower” than originally assumed by the World Health Organisation. According to The Mercury, the group contended that DMA regulations disrupted citizens’ constitutional rights. It also said that the right to freedom of expression had been disrupted, as under regulation 11(5), challenging the conventional view of the virus could be criminalised.
The group said as the Constitution had not been suspended, citizens still had their ability to invoke their constitutional rights without limitation and the provisions of the Bill of Rights remained in place. They advised citizens to plead not guilty to lockdown offences and to run their cases to trial. “Any law enforcement official trying to arrest a citizen for contravening lockdown regulations is acting in our opinion unlawfully, outside the ambit of the Criminal Procedure Act and without any form of constitutional mandate, and therefore can be potentially charged for assault in a criminal court, and sued for damages in a civil court,” they said.
Ramaphosa had five days to respond, failing which the CLD would seek relief to dissolve the NCCC on the grounds of it being “totally unconstitutional and its regulations consequently invalid”. Mkhize’s spokesperson, Popo Maja, said the “lockdown is not a South African invention, it is a public health measure practice internationally to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic”.Full report in The Mercury (subscription needed)