By Adv. Giselle Rüther
South Africa celebrates Freedom Day on 27 April 2020. Freedom Day marks the first democratic election in South Africa in 1994.
Thabo Mbekhi at Freedom Day Celebrations in 2008 stated as follows:
“The brutalities of the past – detentions without trial, disappearances of our people, deaths in detentions, hangings of those opposed to apartheid, imprisonment, exile, massacres, assassinations, forced removals, banishments, the Group Areas Act and many more laws that made the lives of black people unbearable – are testimonies that our freedom was never free. Although today we walk tall because our collective efforts culminated in the 27th of April being our Freedom Day, we all still carry scars that remind us that our freedom that is at times taken for granted, was never free…”
For the first time since 1994 our freedom has been restricted by a non-political enemy that South Africans appear to be united against, namely the coronavirus.
This time the purpose of the restrictions on freedom is not to foster Apartheid but to avoid personal contact between the citizens of South Africa in order to prevent the uncontrolled spread of the Covid-19 virus. South Africa has seen the example of two first world countries, namely Spain and Italy whose health care systems have buckled under the pressure of trying to control the virus, and who appear to be failing. South Africa with its limited resources has to do everything within its power to contain the spread.
On 15 March 2020 Co-operative Governance Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma declared a national State of Disaster in terms of the Disaster Management Act and it is only under these circumstances that the restriction of our liberties are permitted. All political parties are in agreement that these are the correct steps to be taken.
Unfortunately we are in a ‘desperate times call for desperate measures’ situation. The lockdown regulations have restricted our citizens by confining every person to their place of residence, unless strictly for the purpose of performing an essential service, obtaining essential goods or services, collecting a social grant or seeking emergency, life-saving or chronic medical attention. All gatherings and travel between districts and provinces are prohibited, with the exception being for the purpose of a funeral, with attendance limited to 50 people.
The regulations promulgated under this act restrict the movements of individuals and goods severely, and severely restricts and impact on almost all of the fundamental rights in the Constitution. These include: human dignity; freedom of security of the person; privacy; freedom of religion belief and opinion; freedom of expression; freedom of assembly, demonstration, picket and petition; freedom of association; freedom of movement and residence; freedom of trade, occupation and profession; and education.
These freedoms that have been limited are extensive. This extreme limitation is indicative of the current life or death situation with which our country is faced. The fact that all political parties hold the same view in this regard is evidence of the fact that, unlike during Apartheid, there is no political agenda. There is one right which is being protected, above all others, and that is the right to life.
South Africans have to come to terms with the idea that this time the limitations are justifiable and for a legitimate purpose, and truly for the common good and not just for the small sector of society despite the smarting reminder of the past.
This time is immeasurably difficult, taking a toll on both economic security and physical and mental health with many people not being able to earn an income, see or care for their loved ones, among many other harsh restrictions. Hopefully this early and extreme restriction of our freedom will ensure the preservation of all our freedoms in the future.
Freedom Day this year will have to be a celebration of South African unity and hope for the future, rather than a focus on the current limitations.
Adv. Giselle Rüther, Advocate at the Cape Bar