Letter: Lockdown: lets's protect our rights - The Star

22 May 2020 - Now that it has become clear that the lockdown is a fixture for the foreseeable future, it is all the more vital to examine and counter the threat it poses to the political and economic freedoms of all South Africans.

Now that it has become clear that the lockdown is a fixture for the foreseeable future, it is all the more vital to examine and counter the threat it poses to the political and economic freedoms of all South Africans.

The continuing lockdown will be catastrophic, especially for the poor est South Africans who receive little protection. The threat to liberty is expanding too. Threats and risks include the constitutional status and decision making of the National Coronavirus Command Council; abuses by the police and army; a mounting threat to freedom of speech; the failure of the government to disclose the modelled data informing its decisions, and its failure to meet the Constitution's founding values of accountability, responsiveness, and openness; and the sharp erosion of economic freedom.

Restrictions on political and economic freedoms have not been counterbalanced by evident health gains. Even the initial hard lockdown proved unable to sufficiently slow the trans mission of the virus in townships and informal settlements where physical distancing and regular hand washing cannot be achieved.

While the state of disaster has not suspended the rights guaranteed by the Constitution such as rights to human dignity, equality, and just administrative action, as well as rights of assembly, demonstration and free speech, along with freedom of movement, freedom of association, and freedom of trade, occupation, and profession , the lockdown infringes all these rights. Restrictions on guaranteed rights must be "reasonable and justifiable". There must also be a clear link between the restrictions and the purpose they intend to achieve.

Many lockdown rules are not reasonable and justifiable. If liberty is to be kept alive, it is vital to challenge every unreasonable and unjustifiable decision from the irrationality of specific rules to the constitutionality of the lockdown as a whole. It is also important for South Africans to think beyond the virus, when the need will be to revive the economy after the devastation.

Dr Anthea Jeffery

Head of policy research at the Institute of Race Relations

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