'You aren't allowed to sell T-shirts, flip-flops?' Trevor Manuel slams 'irrationality' of lockdown regulations

Trevor Manuel. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
Trevor Manuel. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

Trevor Manuel has sharply criticised government regulations and says the Disaster Management Act (DMA) does not mean that accountability over government is suspended.

In an interview with News24, he questioned the rationality of some regulations published in terms of the DMA, which governs a national disaster, and said he believes many of it make no sense. He also said that security forces need to understand their main function is to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and that they must act with compassion and out of a sense of service to the public.

"Once you start using the language of force, then you’re on the wrong side of history," Manuel said.

Manuel, the former finance minister and one of the most senior members of the governing ANC, says many of the regulations announced in terms of the DMA are "irrational" and make no sense.

"Look at the regulations about the sale of clothing that were published today: you aren’t allowed to sell T-shirts or flip-flops? What is this? It is not rational. We all agreed that, when the president announced the lockdown, it was necessary to prevent the spread of Covid-19. But, as this has unfolded, I have increasingly started to see the irrationality of much of it," he told News24 in an interview on Wednesday.

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He wrote in City Press on Sunday that South Africans should not forsake the Constitution and tolerate violent behaviour from the police and the army.

"The Constitution and the Defence Act make it abundantly clear that the SANDF is accountable to Parliament for civil control and oversight. The tragedy of the behaviour of our security services in implementing the Covid-19 coronavirus national lockdown regulations is that their conduct has so often gone against the letter and spirit of our Constitution," he wrote.

He told News24 that, although his greatest concern initially was the heavy-handed and uncaring approach of the police and soldiers, the behaviour of some ministers had also left much to be desired.

"Some of the regulations announced by ministers are irrational. On what basis does the Minister of Transport announce a curfew to commence at 20:00 and then change it to 19:00? But, also, on what basis is a curfew announced at all?

"On what basis do you allow old people to stand in line, bunched up together, to wait for their old age pensions, when they are the people most at risk? And on what basis do you decide exercise is only allowed for three hours per day? Tell me, on what basis? It’s irrational."

'We need to get back to rationality'

Manuel said the DMA was there to help navigate difficult and unprecedented events, "but the Act does not mean that accountability over government is suspended".

The emphasis should not be on arresting people or on issuing fines, but on preventing the spread of the virus. And the police and army need to understand that they should conduct their tasks with compassion and a sense of service.

He added that Covid-19 was "unprecedented" and that the last time emergency powers such as these, which limited people's movement, were enacted was with the state of emergency which ended on 2 February 1990.

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"They used the jackboot then. And why do you use the jackboot? Because the system doesn’t work. And if the Minister of Police, for example, is serious about making the system work, he’d ensure that the police secretariat (the civilian body which provides oversight on the police) is properly staffed. Then you’d have the police commissioner in the Western Cape (Yolisa Matakata) making sure the 'over-zealousness' of the police in Muizenburg, as she put it, is held in check."

Manuel is furious about an incident north of Durban, where a child was accosted by law enforcement officers because of the alleged violation of a Covid-19-related regulation.

"It’s a terrible incident. I want to shout at them and hold the Children’s Act to their faces. We cannot do this. Similarly, with other incidents where people have been the victims of violence by the police and army."

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The Constitution demands civilian oversight of the police and the army through the police secretariat, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate and the defence council. The public, Manuel says, must insist on accountability.

"We must not be tolerant of this type of behaviour and we need to demand checks and balances. We need to return to a system of checks and balances. We need to go back to rationality."

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