South Africa: In COVID-19 Times, Government's Power Grab Must Be Subject to Expeditious and Clearly Defined Oversight


The destruction of life that has been caused by Covid-19 prompted governments the world over to assume emergency powers. This has raised the spectre of long-term damage to constitutional democracy in particular and the rule of law in general.

While Viktor Orbán's move in Hungary to eviscerate any legal restraints upon governance is the most dramatic move, similar consternations have been expressed about the governance of both Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, both of whom have revealed lukewarm commitments to accountability, whether by the courts or the legislature.

Recently Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch wrote:

"Recognising that the public is more willing to accept government power grabs in times of crisis, some leaders see the coronavirus as an opportunity not only to censor criticism but also to undermine checks and balances on their power. Much as the "war on terrorism" was used to justify certain long-lasting restrictions on civil liberties, so the fight against the coronavirus threatens longer-term damage to democratic rule."

For this reason, concerns have been expressed that security influences should not override the direct and obvious health problems caused by Covid-19. The Disaster Management Act, which is the legal source for the current lockdown, and the...

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