The office of the presidency has referred the EFF’s legal letter demanding that the lockdown regulations be relaxed to allow political gatherings in compliance with all Covid-19 protocols and restrictions to the department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta).
A source close to the matter, who spoke to City Press on condition of anonymity, explained that the opening of political space is not something that the president or the presidency would be able to do single-handedly. “This is something that the command council would look at, to see what the state of infections in the country is, what conditions are like, etcetera.”
Speaking to City Press on Thursday, presidency spokesperson Tyrone Seale said “government continuously assesses the Covid-19 risk-adjusted strategy based on scientific evidence and assessments of the risks of community transmission”. He was responding to the letter sent by the red berets through their lawyer, Ian Levitt Attorneys, to the presidency on Monday, which said the continued ban of political gatherings was “arbitrary” and “irrational”.
The party highlighted that the current regulations constituted an unjustified limitation to the political rights guaranteed in sections 17 and 19 of the Constitution.
“These lockdown regulations prohibit a political party from engaging in programmes and activities to hold government accountable for its actions and furthermore prohibit the campaigning of political programmes and activities in preparation of this year’s local government elections [which are likely to take place in November],” reads the letter.
Cogta spokesperson Lungi Mtshali told City Press: “We have always said, since April 25, that what will inform changes in the regulations is the epidemiology of the virus.
“So, if the numbers of infections are going down, and we are getting feedback from health that hospitals are coping with the infections and they are able to treat; now we also have the vaccine, the inoculation that is going on; that is what informs where we go with regulations, including all gatherings, which of course will include political gatherings as well.”
He added that “on a regular basis, government reviews the regulations based on that information – hospital information and statistics on virus infections and death. Given the situation as is, government looks at what it is going to change in terms of regulations when it comes to gatherings, and it will make an announcement in due course.”
According to the current disaster management regulations, the matter will be up for consideration when ministers who sit on the national coronavirus command council or officials from various departments, who also interact with the different sectors, raise the matter.
“The command council will make recommendations to Cabinet, based on the information it receives, and it is Cabinet that will take a decision [that will inform Cogta] on what should be done, and we will form regulations based on that. Government deals with these on a weekly basis. Even this week, there was [a command council] meeting and government will make an announcement in due course,” said Mtshali.
“So, on a regular basis, government reviews the regulations based on that information – hospital information and statistics on virus infections and death. Given the situation as it is, government looks at what it is going to change in terms of regulations when it comes to gatherings, and it will make an announcement in due course.”
The red berets believe that allowing social activities cannot be more important than political rights.
“One scrutinises the balance of the lockdown regulations, which allow for gatherings in restaurants, large workspaces, faith-based institutions, museums, beaches,” the party said.
“The prohibition of political gatherings is illogical and irrational, specifically when one can gather at a public beach or swimming pool, but is criminalised when one gathers to challenge government, to protest or assemble peacefully.”
The EFF gave Ramaphosa until Friday to respond to its demand.
As it stands, the Disaster Management Act: Regulations: Alert level 3 during Coronavirus Covid-19 lockdown states that, every person, when attending a gathering and to limit exposure to Covid-19 must:
- (a) wear a face mask;
- (b) adhere to all health protocols;
- (c) maintain a distance of at least one and a half metres from each other; and
- (d) adhere to any other health protocols and social distancing measures as provided for in directions issued by the relevant Cabinet member after consultation with the Cabinet member responsible for health.