Pretoria – The two senior advocates who questioned government on the legality of the powers of the Covid-19 National Command Council (NCC) have decided not to take the matter further.
Their lawyer Luqmaan Hassan said since the issue was now being driven from the community, advocates Nazeer Cassim, SC, and Erin Richardson were stepping back from their personal involvement in the engagement regarding the NCC.
The DA indicated that it was taking the government to court to, among others, challenge the validity of some aspects of the national lockdown. Many questions have also been asked regarding the authority of the command centre.
“Our clients are heartened by the public sentiment and debate
created, which is reflective of a democratic society.
They now have every confidence that the public will fight vigorously for accountability and transparency at every turn,” Hassan said.
He earlier addressed a letter on behalf of the advocates to President Cyril Ramaphosa, in which the concerned legal minds questioned the legality of the National Command Council, which under the State of Disaster and during the lockdown is ruling the lives of every South African.
They said, among others, the command council “appears to us to constitute a centralisation of power that is impermissible under the Disaster Management Act”.
In questioning the establishment and set-up of the command council, they said: “The problem is that the command centre only consists of 19 ministers; where are the remaining ministers?”
They said in the circumstances, they wanted clarification regarding the basis for the establishment of the command centre, as well as the extent of its powers.
The advocates said it was a difficult and frustrating task to find information pertaining to the structure, and that citizens could not exercise their rights when they did not have access to this information.
Before abandoning the issue, they engaged the Presidency on the matter, until they recently considered taking the matter to court.
But Hassan said his clients made it clear from the start that they had posed these concerns as citizens, and not as advocates.
They were concerned that there was no leadership at first to steer the issue.
“In the preceding weeks our firm addressed two letters to the Presidency on behalf of our clients.
“The letters and the circumstances under which they came into being were extraordinary”
He said the advocates traditionally limited themselves to representing citizens, and they normally did not take on issues themselves – unless it was absolutely necessary.
Hassan said when they started engaging the Presidency on the issue, there was no clear communication from the government regarding the governance structures which had been established to deal with the Covid-19 disaster.
There was also a lack of understanding with regard to the framework of the Disaster Management Act, and the constitutional framework which underscored it.
“This particular observation was amplified by inexplicable silence at the time from those who ought to have been leading the critique of the lawfulness of the government’s actions – such as the opposition parties.”
He said it also seemed as if the public did not at first question the decisions taken by the government, apparently due to the lack of leadership.
This, he said, had compelled his clients to take the unprecedented step of mobilising as citizens in order to call for accountability.
But due to the change in which South Africans are now raising these concerns, they are satisfied that the issues have come to the fore and are being dealt with, Hassan said.
“Our clients are heartened and encouraged by this,” he said.
By Zelda Venter