Ebrahim Patel: Essential goods include baby clothes

The government on Thursday clarified that “essential goods” include baby clothes and blankets.

This follows an urgent application to the Constitutional Court by two nongovernmental organisations (NGOs), the Tebeila Institute of Leadership, Education, Governance and Training and the African Institute for Human Rights and Constitutional Litigation. The application was dismissed by the highest court, which said it was not in the interests of justice to grant direct access.

However, in a media release today, Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel has attempted to provide clarity.

In the statement, Patel says that, “products for the care of babies and toddlers” are already considered essential goods under the lockdown regulations.

“Following requests for clarification, we confirm that this provision includes baby clothes, blankets, towels and other essential accessories for newborns, infants and toddlers up to 36 months old,” he said.

However, it seems that only stores that are already allowed to be open to sell other essential goods will be allowed to open their aisles for baby clothes: “To ensure the effectiveness of the lockdown in containing the spread of Covid-19, all stores that are currently permitted to remain open for the sale of other essential goods, including supermarkets, may, therefore, sell these products.”

The statement does not clarify whether stores that sell only baby goods are now allowed to open. Nor is it clear whether essential goods include car seats, prams and baby beds — some of the questions raised by the NGOs that approached the Constitutional Court.

Patel, however, said that the government had discussed the pricing of baby items with the chief executives of large retailers: “We have been in contact with the CEOs of the large retailers, who have undertaken to sell these products at prices that simply cover their basic costs of production and distribution for the period of the lockdown. Hospitals and clinics may directly procure these products as necessary to provide for the infants in their care.”

The Constitutional Court’s order said its decision was taken in view of the facts that the regulations provided that essential goods already included baby products and because the NGOs had failed to try other options before approaching the highest court.

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Franny Rabkin
Franny Rabkin
Franny is the legal reporter at the Mail & Guardian

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