South Africa: The COVID-19 Crisis Does Not Override the Constitution

South African Police shut down spaza shops in Govan Mbeki Township in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

In these extraordinary times, we need to be vigilant about the potential erosion of some freedoms, like freedom of speech and the right to privacy. These should remain sacrosanct and defended tenaciously, even in the face of an emergency.

Democratic Alliance leader John Steenhuisen, writing in Daily Maverick on 31 March 2020, focused on the dangers and threat to democracy of giving relatively free rein to the security forces under the cloak of the Covid-19 lockdown. He, pertinently, reiterated his call to the Speaker of Parliament, Thandi Modise, for the establishment of an ad hoc committee of the National Assembly to exercise oversight over the executive and ensure the protection of civil liberties during the lockdown.

This is absolutely crucial - it addresses the threats to our civil liberties and holds the executive to book. It is underscored by the "harm principle" articulated by John Stuart Mill who argued that "the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others".

This is widely accepted, both in the realm of politics and public health ethics. The harm principle is apposite to certain public health matters...

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