Read an update to this post published April 13, 2021: “One Year Later: COVID-19, Human Rights, and the Rule of Law in South Africa”
By Mark Heywood
South Africa’s first case of COVID-19 was confirmed on March 5th, 2020. Ten days later, on March 15th, 2020, the government utilized the Disaster Management Act (2002) to declare a State of National Disaster. Under this Act, the government set up a National Command Council (NCC) made up of Cabinet Ministers and restricted certain rights necessary to prevent SARS-Cov-2 transmission and “flatten the curve.”
A national lockdown started on March 27th. It was relaxed slightly (to level 4) on May 1st, and was further relaxed (to level 3) on June 1st. The lockdown severely restricted freedom of movement, closed all but essential companies and schools, banned the sale of alcohol and tobacco, and introduced a night-time curfew between 8pm and 5am. By May 22nd, the Minister of Police reported that 230,000 people had been arrested for violating lock-down regulations.
The most affected constitutionally recognized rights are freedom of movement, assembly, and trade. However, on paper at least, care has been taken to ensure that political rights and rights to freedom of expression and association are not limited, and the President has couched the country’s response in terms of the Constitution, particularly the rights to life, dignity and access to health care services. He has also frequently referred to the right to equality and promised that in the post COVID-19 period South Africa will do much more to tackle the inequalities that have been exposed by the coronavirus.