Extension of state of disaster is a blatant power grab

CoGTA Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has once again extended the national state of disaster, which was set to expire today, justifying it with “the need to continue augmenting the existing legislation and contingency arrangements undertaken by organs of state to address the impact of the disaster”.

Let’s be clear. This is a blatant power grab. The state of disaster deliberately cuts out parliamentary oversight. It effectively allows government to run a dictatorship, making new laws that fundamentally effect people’s lives without having to consult Parliament.

This has absolutely nothing to do with the virus. SA has recently recorded around 10 Covid-19 deaths per day, in a country where average deaths per day from all causes is well over 1 200. Around 40 people die daily on SA’s roads, yet we do not give government extraordinary powers to shut down our road network.

This is rank opportunism by a party hellbent on controlling every aspect of people’s lives. It’s an anti-democratic move that will hamper our economic recovery by reducing investment certainty and by enabling a continuation of government’s irrational, ineffective lockdown restrictions. They are abusing the shortcomings of the Disaster Management Act, which the DA is challenging in court.

The real disaster in this country is the rampant poverty, unemployment and inequality that have ballooned due to our disaster of a state and its disastrous, prolonged lockdown.

Even the World Health Organisation has appealed to all world leaders to stop using lockdowns because “they just have one consequence… and that is making poor people a whole lot poorer”. They have caused a “terrible, ghastly global catastrophe” that will likely see a “doubling of world poverty by next year” and “at least a doubling of child malnutrition”.

SA’s lockdown has done far more harm than good. Financial services group Discovery estimates that 16 000 lives may have been saved from Covid-related deaths by the lockdown. That’s the sum total of lockdown benefits, which is far outweighed by the catastrophic social costs which include:

  • A significant expected increase in deaths to cancer, TB and other diseases due to disrupted access to screening, testing, vaccines etc.
  • A significant rise in depression and suicide rates.
  • 3 million job losses including over 300 000 domestic worker jobs.
  • Widespread hunger – a quarter of township households don’t have enough to eat.
  • The most disadvantaged groups (poor, rural, women, unskilled, less educated) have suffered most, with job losses 10 times higher for the poorest 50% of workers compared to the richest 25%.
  • 40% of school days will be lost for most children in 2020, with education inequality and school dropout rates inevitably increasing. ECD attendance levels are still down by 75%.
  • Massive curtailment of basic civil liberties.
  • Billions of rands of annual tax revenue foregone, which could have been used to deliver essential services and reduce poverty.

And these are only the immediate costs. Then there are the long-term costs, most notably an inevitable drop in life expectancy due to greater poverty and childhood stunting. Add to that the opportunity cost of the increased life expectancy that could have been achieved had lockdown not reduced annual tax revenue by billions of rands for the foreseeable future. There will inevitably be lives lost to increased violence that is the natural result of the social instability which arises from SA’s large and growing inequality. Let’s not fool ourselves, lockdown is the bigger killer.

And yet the ANC government, far from recognizing the catastrophic damage it has caused to people’s lives, wants to extend its powers to cause even more damage.

No one should accept this blatant power grab. Please join the DA in calling for a full end to the state of disaster and the lockdown, including by ending:

  • All restrictions on international travel, which continue to harm our already crippled tourism industry.
  • All restrictions on the trade of alcohol.
  • All restrictions on normal school operations.
  • The curfew, which is an unnecessary restriction on people’s freedom of movement.

This government remains the biggest risk to South Africa’s wellbeing. Anything which gives them more power should be resisted.

Step one of President Ramaphosa’s Economic Recovery Action Plan that he is presenting later today should be a lifting of the national state of disaster and a full end to the lockdown. That would give investors some confidence that more rationality and stability can be expected in future.