/ 13 August 2020

Trail of Covid cases on trial in the courts

Smoking Cigarette 7844
Where there’s smoke: British American Tobacco South Africa and the Fair Trade Tobacco Association have gone to court to have the ban on tobacco product sales lifted

Since President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the state of disaster in March, the government’s lockdown regulations have been the subject of public scrutiny and ire.

The first matter taken to court was by Karel van Heerden, who asked the high court in Mpumalanga if he could travel to the Eastern Cape for his grandfather’s funeral. The application was rejected.

The initial regulations did not consider the sale of baby clothes as an essential item. In April, the matter was taken to court. But as soon as it came to the government’s attention, the regulations were adjusted accordingly.

Also in April, the Gauteng Liquor Forum demanded that the ban on alcohol sales be lifted because it would harm the livelihoods of its members. The presidency declined the forum’s request.

Later that month, Ramaphosa announced an easing of regulations to allow for the gradual reopening of the economy in May.

Ramaphosa also announced that the ban on tobacco products would be lifted. But then the minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, later said that this would not be the case.

This emboldened tobacco lobbyists to take action, launching the Lift the Ban campaign.

The Fair Trade Tobacco Association took the matter to court, but its application was dismissed with costs. 

In May, seven weeks into the lockdown, the Democratic Alliance launched its court challenge arguing that the national state of disaster strips Parliament of its oversight role by empowering a cabinet member — Dlamini-Zuma — to make regulations The DA’s application for direct access to the Constitutional Court was dismissed.

In June, the lockdown was eased further, allowing for the sale of alcohol under strict conditions for home consumption. In July, the ban on alcohol was reinstated to take the pressure off intensive care units dealing with alcohol-related injuries.

The first major blow against the regulations came in June when the high court in Pretoria struck down the restrictions after Reyno de Beer, the president of an organisation called Liberty Fighters Network, argued that the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic was a “gross overreaction”.