State of emergency declaration gives govt too much power, says analyst

So far, the government has said that it was too early to declare a state of emergency over the riots, looting and destruction of property amounting to trillions of rands.

People stand near the looted and vandalised Lotsoho Mall in Katlehong township, east of Johannesburg, on 12 July 2021. Several shops are damaged and cars burnt in Johannesburg following a night of violence. Police are on the scene trying to control further protests. It is unclear if this is linked to sporadic protests following the incarceration of former president Jacob Zuma. Picture: Phill Magakoe/AFP

JOHANNESBURG - While the government said that it was too early to declare a state of emergency over the looting and lawlessness witnessed since the weekend, many commentators in society have equally been calling for such action.

However, it is unclear what the government could possibly achieve with a declaration of a state of emergency, as opposed to the current state of disaster which was brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A state of emergency can be enforced under Section 37 of the Constitution as a last measure in a crisis and can only be declared when the security of the country is threatened by war, invasion, general insurrection and disorder during a national disaster to restore peace and order.

It also empowers the executive to suspend human rights and laws such as the freedom of movement which is very much a feature of current lockdown restrictions.

Other rights that could be suspended include education and other socio-economic rights while rights to life and human dignity would remain protected by the Constitution.

On Tuesday, more calls were added to the plea for government to declare a state of emergency by the beer industry, Agri SA and the Consumer Goods Council of SA.

However, given the limited national budget deficit, it is unclear what the organisations thought would be achieved with such a declaration to aid the industries which have been devastated by the pandemic and now faces the added pressure of the riots.

Should the government change its posture on the matter though, it can only be implemented for 21 days, and any other extension must be voted on by Parliament.

TOO MUCH POWER FOR THE GOVERNMENT

However, analysts said that would not make a difference or at best leave the country in a worse state.

With 2,500 soldiers on the country’s streets and two meetings of the security council daily, some South Africans still feel that a state of emergency could aid the crisis which has left 74 people dead so far, but could it?

Political analyst Ralph Mathekga said that it was difficult to see how a state of emergency will deal with perennial capacity problems that exist in government in the public service.

“I really think the current administration lacks legitimacy to be trusted and expedite decisions well under a state of emergency. Imagine when civil liberties are pushed back, what will that result in? I really fear what that would result in.”

Mathekga said the declaration gave too many powers to the government and the country had already witnessed non-governmental organisations doing incredible work with access to services which made it hard to justify why the executive should have more power.

“It is a very costly experiment. Given what we have experienced so far, it is a risky experimentation.”

So far, the government has said that it was too early to declare a state of emergency over the riots, looting and destruction of property amounting to trillions of rands.

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