The Democratic Alliance (DA) submitted comments around the Draft Framework for Sectors for Level 4, particularly its risk-adjusted strategy today [April 27]. The comments were submitted to the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), as well as the Department of Trade and Industry.
“We submitted two documents, one responding to their Level 4 proposals (including two attachments) and the other to their proposal for a curfew,” DA Mmeber of Parliament (MP) John Steenhuisen said in a statement. “The move to Level 4 of the lockdown was meant to allow for a greater level of economic activity, but there is far too little to distinguish Level 4 from Level 5, and thus Level 4 inadequately balances the looming economic crisis.”
According to Steenhuisen, the DA supports the opening of a wider economy.
“There has been little to no transparency around the data or analysis being used to guide government’s response. Secondly, a wider opening can still achieve the same level of public safety if the government changes its approach from one based on force to one based on trust,” he said. “Furthermore, government has taken the approach of state control using force, choosing to centralise draconian powers in the hands of incapable ministers and enforce compliance by deploying 75 000 ill-trained South African National Defence Force (SANDF) members, many armed with live ammunition. Instead, it should be providing direction by harnessing the creativity, incentives and goodwill of everyone, within a reasonable set of rules.”
According to the political party, both comment submissions can be attributed to what is viewed as a “lack of trust on the part of government towards citizens”.
“It does not trust them to make sensible decisions in the workplace, it does not trust them with the data on which it supposedly bases its decisions around the lifting or imposition of restrictions, and it doesn’t trust them with their personal movement and physical distancing,” Steenhuisen said.
The DA supported the initial call for a hard lockdown of the country and economy. “It was the right thing to do, given the urgent need for time to prepare our healthcare response to the imminent threat of the pandemic,” he said. “We also supported, in principle, the announcement last week of a move towards a softer phase of this lockdown to allow for some economic activity to return and for people to return to work. This was in line with our consistent call for the protection of lives and the protection of livelihoods to be carefully balanced.”
Steenhuisen added that the party said it would reserve further comment until it had seen the details of the phased approach. The DA believes there is no way for anyone to know how moving between different levels of lockdown was made the full data is not yet known.
“These decisions must be based on accurate, localised data on both community transmission as well as healthcare capacity, and yet government does not make this data publicly available. It expects citizens to trust its decisions, but it does not trust citizens with the information,” Steenhuisen said.
The DA stipulated that the industries allowed to trade under the “softer level of lockdown” has flaws.
“Firstly, it is far too incremental. In other words, there is not nearly enough of a difference between levels 5 and 4, and there will be no meaningful increase in economic activity, leaving millions locked out and destitute. Secondly, the sector-wide approach, where the risk assessment is applied to an entire industry and not the many and varied types of businesses inside that sector, is far too blunt a tool for the job,” Steenhuisen said. ”
“And thirdly, the criteria whereby industries can return to work are too subjective. While we agree that having an acceptably low transmission risk is crucial, the second and third criteria – whether a business is ‘of critical value to the economy’ and whether it is ‘under severe near-term economic stress’ – leave far too much room for subjective interpretation. If it is the risk of transmission that is keeping the economy closed down, then surely only the first criteria should matter. All businesses are of critical importance to the economy and most of them are under economic stress. If they can operate safely, they should be allowed to open.”
The second submission deals with what the party believes is the “unjustified imposition of a curfew”.
“As we awake to the news on Freedom Day that thousands of prisoners are to be released from jail and granted the freedom to terrorise South Africans, responsible citizens will now be subject to a curfew enforced by 75 000 soldiers,” the MP said.
Research conducted by the Human Sciences Research Council has found that 99% of South Africans complied with lockdown regulations for a month.
“This shows that the people deserve to be trusted, not coerced,” Steenhuisen said. “It is therefore highly likely that the SANDF will be used to enforce the curfew between 8pm and 5am every night. This would mean that soldiers are granted the discretionary power to decide whether someone who travels between 20:00 and 05:00 faces a bona fide medical emergency or is performing an essential service. This grants far too wide a scope of powers to the SANDF.”
“Instead of a military curfew, we need to dramatically enhance social mobilisation efforts through education and raising awareness. There is no need for militarisation and a formal curfew when citizens understand and trust the need for the limitations on freedom of movement. No amount of force or coercion will bolster compliance in the absence of understanding and trust,” he added. “If the government fails to heed our warning to rescind the planned enforcement of a military curfew, the DA reserves our right to challenge the move in court, because we place our trust in citizens rather than in coercion.”