By Presiding Officers of Parliament
Societies all over the world are struggling to respond and adapt to the rapidly changing threats to public health, and the resultant threats to democratic freedom brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.
This pandemic has resulted in the application of restrictions that limit some of the most important freedoms enshrined in democratic South Africa’s Constitution and the Bill of Rights namely the freedom of movement, freedom of assembly and freedom of trade.
These restrictions not only limit basic rights but have interrupted our every day lives thus threatening the daily sustenance and survival of many people in our country.
During a pandemic, limiting people’s movement and avoiding their contact with others is justifiable to stop the spread of a deadly virus.
Despite restrictions, we celebrate this year’s Freedom Day (on 27 April) with comforting guarantees that the government is seized with putting in place measures that will help ensure that all people of this country have an equal chance of survival – during and beyond this pandemic.
Those amongst us old enough will acknowledge that the current restrictions are in no way equivalent to the inhumane limitations forced upon the majority of this country by the Apartheid government – whose selective reign of terror ended on 27 April 1994 when all South Africans voted for a democratic government.
Chapter 2 of the democratic Constitution allows the limiting of the rights in the Bill of Rights “to the extent that the limitation is reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality, and freedom.”
As Parliament’s Presiding Officers, we commend President Cyril Ramaphosa and his Cabinet for ensuring that these restrictions are always communicated clearly and devoid of any secrecy and serve their intended purpose.
This augers well for our hard-won democratic principles of openness, transparency, and accountability which puts the collective needs of all South Africans above everything else.
The socio-economic reliefs announced by the President during this pandemic will also provide a welcomed relief and do well in cushioning the vulnerable in our society against distress.
During this time, we urge all South Africans to be selfless, considerate, supportive and protective of one another, including our families, friends, health practitioners, retail workers, law enforcement officers, and our military, by observing the regulations and cooperating with each other. The first democratic President, uTata Nelson Mandela, said: “For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” The fierce battle against this pandemic is about the right to life and human dignity, and these are basic freedoms we must not only cherish and preserve for ourselves but for others too.
It is regrettable, however, that during this lockdown we have observed instances of adventurism characterized by violations of the regulations by members of the public and some law enforcement officers acting outside of the bounds of the law. Cooperation and collaboration are vital during this time, which is understandably difficult for both society and our hardworking law enforcement officers, to ensure we flatten the curve and return quickly to our basic freedoms and normal way of life.
As a nation, we must express our sincere appreciation to the health officials who are putting their lives on the line to protect ours. Our sympathies go out to the families of those who have lost their lives, and we wish a speedy recovery to those who have contracted the virus.
We urge all to honour their lives by continuing to #StaySafe and #StayHome.
The power to protect one another and our democratic principles during this pandemic lies with every one of us.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Republic of South Africa: The Parliament.