DA vows to fight ANC’s ‘dictatorial madness’ in court

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DA vows to fight ANC’s ‘dictatorial madness’ in court

John Steenhuisen says SA’s slide towards a one-party fiefdom has to be stopped

Aphiwe Deklerk, Naledi Shange, Isaac Mahlangu and Kgothatso Madisa
DA interim leader John Steenhuisen says a lack of oversight is allowing government to write laws and regulations as it pleases.
SEE YOU IN COURT DA interim leader John Steenhuisen says a lack of oversight is allowing government to write laws and regulations as it pleases.
Image: Freddy Mavunda © Financial Mail

As the DA vowed to challenge lockdown regulations in court, a new Government Gazette arrived on Thursday afternoon allowing e-commerce, one of the opposition party’s bugbears. 

The gazette came hours after DA interim leader John Steenhuisen announced his party would fight to overturn every decision and regulation that was irrational or immoral until “we have done what President [Cyril] Ramaphosa could not do: end the hard lockdown”.

“There are no rational justifications for a military-enforced curfew, a restriction on e-commerce business and a limited three-hour window for exercise,” said Steenhuisen.

“It is our opinion, and it is the view of many South Africans, that all three of these decisions should be immediately reversed.”

But the ink on his statement was barely dry when the government unshackled e-commerce, allowing  the sale of all goods online, barring alcohol and cigarettes, from Thursday.

The department of trade, industry and competition said: “Subject to all applicable laws, all goods may be transacted through e-commerce platforms, except for goods prohibited [alcohol and cigarettes] ...”

Steenhuisen had insisted the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) was acting without checks and balances. 

“The state of disaster we are currently under, governed by the Disaster Management Act, has zero provision for parliamentary oversight, which means this secretive National Command Council answers to no one,” said Steenhuisen.

“Now consider that not even a state of emergency, which is a further step up from a state of disaster, has such sweeping powers with no parliamentary oversight. There is no logical reason for this and it surely could not have been the intention of the authors of the Disaster Management Act.”

He said the DA would file papers on Friday challenging that aspect of the Disaster Management Act. 

“Unless the act meets constitutional muster, the decisions taken by the National Command Council under this act are not valid. This is an extremely important case because it speaks to one of the most crucial principles in our democracy: the separation of powers.”

Because of this lack of oversight, Steenhuisen said during the lockdown the executive was effectively writing laws and regulations as it pleased, bypassing debate and possible opposition that would have taken place in parliament.

“We have to fight this, because from here our democracy finds itself on a very slippery slope. What we will be asking the court is to apply the same oversight provisions to the state of disaster as to the state of emergency.”

Steenhuisen rubbished a number of regulations under the lockdown, including those pertaining to e-commerce and the sale of cigarettes, alcohol, winter clothes and cooked food.

“None of these things make any difference in delaying the spread of the virus. They’re all just a massive over-reach by the kind of ministers who should be nowhere near such power. If we want to prevent this kind of dictatorial madness, then we have to stop it at the source.” 

He said the legal challenge by his party would stand in the way of a slide towards a one-party fiefdom, where laws and regulations were issued by decree. 

“It is in every single South African’s interest that we succeed.”

But the ruling African National Congress stood firmly behind the government.

ANC deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte said it was very impressed with the government's response to Covid-19 which placed saving lives above everything else.

“Like many other people, we are concerned with the economy. We agree that a phased in approach to open the economy, based on a risk adjusted strategy, is good. We are waiting to hear what regulations to ensure workers are safe to enable opening up will be published,” Duarte said.

Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Groenewald however said his party planned its own court action demanding that all business be allowed to operate fully with measures in place to try and curb the spread of the virus.

The FF Plus said it would also ask the court to force the government to release all the data that was relied upon in imposing the regulations and lockdown levels.

UDM leader Bantu Holomisa said he supported Ramaphosa's phased approach in ending the lockdown..

"All countries in the world are applying this phasing in approach. We feel we need to give the president an opportunity to consult Nedlac, so that we make sure that we march with all the stakeholders including labour," Holomisa said.

He described the court action by the DA and the Freedom Front Plus as premature and labelled it "political opportunism."