South African proposal to breed wildlife for slaughter courts disaster

The proposed Meat Safety Act will see more wild animals landing on dinner plates.
GettyImages

Chris Alden, London School of Economics and Political Science and Ross Harvey, University of Johannesburg

There are times of spectacular policy myopia – and promoting a revision to the Meat Safety Act by the South African government is surely one of these moments.

In late February the government proposed adding over 90 local and non-indigenous species to the list of animals regulated under the Meat Safety Act. Prior to this the act allowed for the commercial slaughter of 35 “domesticated animals” and “wild game” species.

The list of 90 included rhinoceros, hippopotamus and giraffe, as well as “all other species of animals not mentioned above, including birds, fish and reptiles that may be slaughtered as food for human and animal consumption”.

The bill is currently being circulated for comment.

The purpose of the Meat Safety Act is to provide measures to promote meat safety and the safety of animal products for human and animal consumption. The effect of the proposed amendment is to make the whole act applicable to any animal to be slaughtered.

It appears that at least part of the reason for these amendments is to regulate the slaughter of captive-bred lions, whose bones are exported in growing quantities to Asian markets.

If passed in its present form the act opens up the possibility of massive consumption of wildlife. How? By inadvertently driving up the demand for bushmeat through legitimising the consumption of protected wild animals.

A growing conservation concern

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the dangers of the transmission of viruses from wildlife to humans. The same pattern of infectious disease “species jumping” was implicated in the origin and spread of COVID-19, Ebola and SARS.

This zoonotic spillover risk is strongest in “wet markets”, where live animals, fish and birds are butchered and sold to consumers on-site (as well as products like skins, scales and horns). A systematic review in 2007 concluded that:

The presence of a large reservoir of SARS-CoV-like viruses in horseshoe bats, together with the culture of eating exotic mammals in southern China, is a time bomb.

Bushmeat consumption across the continent is already a daunting conservation problem. Bushmeat increasingly serves as a supplement to protein from other sources such as cattle, chickens, goats and sheep.




Read more:
Banning bushmeat could make it harder to stop future pandemics


Our fear is that the change in the law could lead to more wet markets being established in South Africa. While the amendments increase regulatory control, it’s not clear that the government will have the capacity to enforce them. More likely is the risk of realising unintended consequences.

Individuals and small businesses are likely to see this as an opportunity to enter a sector where start-up costs are minimal, sanitary standards difficult to enforce and oversight non-existent.

Trade in small markets already exists in South Africa, which double as markets for traditional medicine in some instances. One study of the Faraday Market in Johannesburg revealed that at least 147 identified vertebrates were being traded for both bushmeat and traditional medicine.

Preserving scarce wildlife

Putting African wildlife on the menu for mass consumption holds implications that are important for our relationship with the wild and environment. It reduces wild animals to mere consumables.

Remember that these amendments come in the wake of 32 wild animal species having recently been included in changes to the Animal Improvement Act, essentially relegating them to mere agricultural products.




Read more:
What is the wildlife trade? And what are the answers to managing it?


What is being put forward by government signals that it is open season on the country’s national heritage and authorises a great expansion of the legal procurement of wild animals for sale.

As has been demonstrated time and time again, the formal legalisation of wildlife trade provides both a cover and an incentive for the illegal trade in wildlife and its products.

For example, the trade in perlemoen, or abalone, has been legal for generations and harvested on a sustainable basis. However, once permits were issued to unscrupulous front companies from Asia, the systematic stripping of the coast commenced with exports packed and sent out of the Cape and Johannesburg all under the legal guise of a legitimate business.




Read more:
First steps to tackling South Africa’s abalone poaching


A significant portion of perlemoen has disappeared from coastal shores, depriving South Africans of employment, valued-add production (such as canning, now performed in Asian countries) and enjoyment of a national resource.

Attempts to protect the species through listing on Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) appendixes have been thwarted by pressure from a fishing industry subject to corruption.

Defeating public health and conservation objectives

Promoting the consumption of wildlife in South Africa will only intensify the commodification of the country’s natural heritage. And it will potentially create zoonotic spillover health risks for humans as well as from wild animals like wildebeest to domesticated animals such as cattle.

We cannot continue to treat our delicate ecological systems as free capital. They are the vital life support systems without which nothing and no one can survive.The Conversation

Chris Alden, Professor of International Relations, London School of Economics and Political Science and Ross Harvey, Director of Research and Programmes, Good Governance Africa, University of Johannesburg

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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SA wine tasting podcast: Rickety Bridge The Printers’ Devil Belphegor 2017

Printers-Devil-Belphegor-2017
A lovely Cape red

Happier days are here again, now that the lockdown in SA has eased, and we can once more purchase booze.

This podcast was recorded before the lockdown, and now it is lifted, we must rally to support the formidable wine industry in the Cape, which brings so much pleasure, whatever nonsense some in government may spout about the devil’s brew.

For our latest podcast, Michael Olivier introduced a lovely Cape red:  Rickety Bridge; The Printers’ Devil Belphegor 2017.

Guest tasters were old favourites: brander Jeremy Sampson, analyst Chris Gilmour and IT expert Malcolm Macdonald.

There was also a useful discussion on the delights – and perils – of ordering wine by the glass.

Click below to enjoy the podcast:

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South Africa’s lockdown: a great start, but then a misreading of how society works

The ban on the sale of alcohol has been partially lifted, but tobacco remains prohibited.
Roger Sedres/Gallo Images via Getty Images

By Steven Friedman, University of Johannesburg

South Africa’s government is proud that its response to Covid-19 relies on science. It might be prouder if it was also guided by knowledge of how society works.

When South Africa’s Covid-19 lockdown began on 27 March, opposition from some quarters was inevitable. What was not expected was that the most vehement resistance would be aimed at a ban on selling tobacco products. Only around 1 in 5 South Africans smoke and previous government limits on smoking were not controversial.

The ban generated such heat because, when the government began relaxing the lockdown, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that tobacco sales would be allowed. Then, at the apparent prompting of the minister responsible for lockdown rules, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the decision was reversed; the ban is still in force.

Dlamini-Zuma has an unfortunate tendency to lecture rather than persuade and her role seems to have turned muttered resentment among some into loud anger, directed not only at the tobacco ban but the entire lockdown.

And, since the loudest opposition has come from white suburbanites, it has revived the familiar conservative argument that a “nanny state” is telling citizens that it knows more about what is good for them than they do.

This complaint says more about the prejudices of those who make it than reality.




Read more:
Lockdown is riling black and white South Africans: could this be a reset moment?


All governments restrict citizens to protect their health and safety: this is why we have traffic lights. And all democracies allow governments to restrict freedoms to protect citizens in an emergency – by, for example, cordoning off areas hit by fire and flood.

The “nanny state” argument expresses a belief that some of us should not be told what to do by those they consider their inferiors.

But this does not mean health measures will be obeyed. It is here that knowledge of society is important.

Erosion of legitimacy

Addictive substances harm health. But knowledge of how humans act in society tells us that, precisely because they are addictive. They can be regulated but banning them never works since addicts find other ways to feed their addiction.

Besides the oft-quoted failure of American prohibition, when white governments in South Africa banned black people from consuming “European liquor”, this created shebeens (speakeasies) which remain a feature.

South Africa’s bans on cigarette and alcohol sales prompted an illicit cigarette trade, the looting of liquor stores and a sharp rise in the price of pineapples which were used to ferment beer.

Dlamini-Zuma’s belief that the ban will prompt “a sizeable number” of people to give up smoking is contradicted by knowledge of society.

This knowledge also tells us that, even among the vast majority who are not addicts, restrictions will fail if they lack legitimacy: people may not like obeying them, but, if they accept they are there for a good reason, they will comply. If they don’t, even thousands of troops will not get them to obey.




Read more:
Pandemics don’t heal divisions — they reveal them. South Africa is a case in point


South Africa’s lockdown rules started with high legitimacy. But it has been eroded and has now dissolved.

The country locked down early, when cases and deaths were relatively few. This creates a legitimacy problem: people must sacrifice yet they do not see the fatalities and overloaded hospitals which influenced citizens of some European countries. But this problem was largely solved because citizens knew – and feared – what was happening elsewhere.

Legitimacy could have remained high if, like some other countries, South Africa’s had done what early lockdowns are meant to do – cut infections and deaths to a handful.

Cooperative Governance minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
Luiz Rampelotto/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

But this was never an option because the scientists who advise the government insisted that restrictions were not meant to stop the virus transmitting, merely to slow it down so that, when the “inevitable” surge arrived, the health system was ready.
They have not been challenged to defend this view because the debate never asks scientists difficult questions. An illustrative example is the claim (which she later clarified) by Professor Glenda Gray, chair of the country’s Medical Research Council, that Soweto’s Baragwanath hospital had no malnutrition cases before the lockdown. But it has created a legitimacy nightmare.

By Ramaphosa’s own admission, South Africa did not use its lockdown to establish the testing and tracing capacity which allowed some countries to beat back Covid-19. But, outside Western Cape Province, it restricted cases to about 11 000 and under 200 deaths by the end of May, figures similar to South Korea’s successful fight against the virus. Even in the Western Cape, there are a few hundred deaths, not the thousands seen elsewhere in the world.

So, the lockdown has been effective enough to ensure that its opponents can demand an end to restrictions without seeming callous. But it has not been effective enough to ensure the drop in infections and deaths which the World Health Organisation – and, initially, the chair of the government’s own medical advisory council – say are needed to phase out restrictions.




Read more:
Coronavirus: corruption in health care could get in the way of Nigeria’s response


The legitimacy which comes from victory over the virus is not available and the official insistence that the restrictions are not meant to stop transmission has handed opponents a good reason to demand that they end even when infections are rising.

Legitimacy has not been eroded among most citizens, who remain deeply concerned about Covid-19. But it has been weakened sufficiently in the policy debate to create an orgy of interest group lobbying for an end to restrictions.

Business began pressing for freedom to operate and has largely succeeded. This set off a chain reaction in which, once one lobby wins, the others smell blood and demand that they too be free to operate.

This lobbying has replaced the veneer of science shrouding government decisions: concessions seem based purely on who shouts loudest. Domestic business travel is allowed, which may allow the virus to spread; religious services are opened although they have been prime spreaders of the virus everywhere; the government has tried to open schools although nearly 2 000 Covid-19 cases are below age 19. Only the tobacco ban remains.

What’s been missing

But the legitimacy of measures to fight Covid-19 is more important than ever because the only chance of curbing it is strict observance by businesses and other institutions of health measures.

The government is reduced to doing what it always does when it loses control – telling citizens they must look after themselves. Because people are worried by Covid-19, those who have access to trade unions or other forms of influence may do that. But, if the virus’s spread is stopped, it will be because people fear it, not because they believe that government measures are legitimate.

This might have been avoided if the government paid as much attention to a knowledge of society as it says it is paying to science.The Conversation

Steven Friedman, Professor of Political Studies, University of Johannesburg

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Ventilators to breathe new life into SA industry

patel
A breath of fresh air from Minister Ebrahim Patel

By John Fraser

When the C19 virus first flew into SA, we had no industry producing medical ventilators.   Trade Industry and Competition Minister Ebrahim Patel says we will soon be making 20 000 a month. 

Although he declined to name them in a media briefing, Friday, he said that three local producers have been chosen, following an extensive selection process, which involved ensuring that the devices can be used as safely as imported units.

“Production is starting in June,”  he said.   “And we will reach 20 000 by August if all goes well.

“SA’s National Ventilator Project was launched in April, when we found the global market was depleted and prices were rising.”

Patel said there was a really strong outpouring of support from car component manufacturers, appliance manufacturers, as well as innovators and science councils.

As well as meeting high standards, the ventilators must be flexible for use in field hospitals, as well, and must be affordable.

“Normally it takes 3 years to ramp up,” said Patel.  “We seek to reduce it to 3 months, with full-on production in July.”

The Solidarity Fund has been used to buy masks and has also provided seed funding for the ventilator initiative.    It is looking, with other funders, to make a purchase order to the order of 20 000 units.

The Treasury is being asked to fund additional purchases – and the aim is for the manufacturers to permanently stay in business and to start to export.

“As the disease ramps up, we are looking at producing more ventilators,” said Patel, suggesting this presents a big manufacturing opportunity.

Meanwhile, the local manufacturing sector has been producing high-quality medical masks.

Some 25m will have been made in May.  By the end of June, the output will jump to 1m a day.

Ford is producing face shields – supplied free of charge to the public sector.

Sasol is devoting its entire ethanol production for hand sanitiser, which is also being produced by some of the larger alcohol producers.

Patel said SA is already supplying PPE to neighbouring countries and rest of the Continent, and this will grow.

“We must ensure the infection does not spread across the region, and we need to show social solidarity,” he said.

“Africa must have the capacity to produce, and must never again be subjected to the shortages we have seen.    Already, 150m litres of sanitiser has been exported from SA to elsewhere in the Continent. ”

Millions of face masks have also been sent to health-care workers in neighbouring countries.

This export drive presents a big future opportunity for SA firms, which will be entrenched once the African Continental Free Trade Area is implemented.   It is delayed by the C19 virus, but efforts are underway to set a new launch date.

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Give me a supermarket trolley with flame throwers, please

Flame
My version of social distancing

By John Fraser

I have written before about the ignorant morons – staff and customers – who infest the supermarkets in which I shop during this 21st Century version of the Black Death.

There is normally sanitiser available for hands and trolley handles, but social distancing? Near impossible.

Today I stormed out of my local branch of Pick ‘n Pay – or should that be Pick ‘n Plague? I did try, using my trolley as a barrier, avoiding busy aisles, waiting patiently while people set up tent in just the area from which I needed to pluck my gourmet-select bread and gruel.

Boy, was I funny?  People found it so amusing that someone wished to keep himself – and them – as safe as possible.

Eventually, the crowding in the aisles, the total ignorance and indifference to social distancing, drove me out.

I left my trolley in situ, and left. Situ ain’t safe.

On instead to my local Spar. A more spacious store, but still full of people who wished to infect me. Soon after I entered, one staff member approached me and I held out an arm to indicate she should keep her distance. Oh, no. She gave me a friendly fist punch, making skin-to-skin contact, potentially infecting me with the killer virus.

A complaint to the manager secured an apology, and I took another dose of sanitiser. Maybe Trump’s idea of drinking bleach isn’t so stupid, after all. It’s probably safer than entering a South African supermarket

Before heading out to shop, I had watched our Trade, Industry and Competition Czar Ebrahim Patel informing MPs that infections among supermarket workers are 10 times the norm.

If the general population were to reach that scale of infection, it would overwhelm our country’s pathetically inadequate healthcare system (my definition, not Patel’s).

To conclude this brief, – but heartfelt – rant, I had to act like a grumpy, loudmouthed shit to keep myself safe.

The public – black, white, yellow, green and silver – doesn’t seem to understand the risk, and stores do not seem to be getting the message to their workers. 

Who are already more at risk, even without their stupid behaviour.

So I am opening up a tender for a supermarket trolly, armed with a battery of flame throwers.

It may sound cruel to burn others to a crisp as I meander along supermarket aisles, but it is not as if these morons would not kill themselves before long.

Be warned.

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Wine tasting podcast. Bonnievale Limited Release Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

bonnievale

By John Fraser

I despise the current prohibition imposed by the Soviet-inspired Command Council in South Africa.   This podcast is not intended to annoy those of us who are fast running out of booze, and are prohibited from buying any more.

Our intention, instead, is to serve as a reminder of a time when a group of chums could get together and relish a few glasses of the red stuff.

Michael Olivier, sommelier to the stars, poured out the Bonnievale Limited Release Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 to a receptive bunch.

Guest tasters were analyst Chris Gilmour, brander Jeremy Sampson, and technical supremo Malcolm MacDonald.

We also chatted about the merits of online purchasing, a pleasure allowed in SA at the moment unless you want to buy booze and ciggies.

Click below for a brief return to civilisation.

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South Africa’s COVID-19 strategy needs updating: here’s why and how


South Africa’s hard, extended lockdown has come at a significant economic cost. Shutterstock

Imraan Valodia, University of the Witwatersrand; Alex van den Heever, University of the Witwatersrand; Lucy Allais, University of the Witwatersrand; Martin Veller, University of the Witwatersrand; Shabir Madhi, University of the Witwatersrand, and Willem Daniel Francois Venter, University of the Witwatersrand

Decision-making at the early stages of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic (the coronavirus causing COVID-19) was constrained by a paucity of medical evidence and epidemiological data. Knowledge gained over the past two months can, therefore, inform the next phase of the strategy.

In the context of the initial uncertainty, South Africa’s early lockdown was prudent. It allowed time to prepare the health care system, to ramp up wide-spread testing and to introduce other measures to reduce transmission rates. Extending the lockdown is no longer required. It is also no longer reducing transmission rates and has become unaffordable.

Current evidence indicates that:

  • It is impossible to eliminate the virus and the spread will continue. Only a few countries have been able to minimise the rate of spread but they remain highly susceptible to repeated outbreaks.
  • The majority, approximately 70%, of people infected with SARS-CoV-2 are asymptomatic or have a moderate, self-limiting illness (approximately 25%). The 5% who develop severe COVID-19, with the risk of dying, are usually older than 65 years (greater than 80%) or have underlying comorbidities (such as hypertension, diabetes and obesity).
  • Children under 18 years are generally spared from developing severe COVID-19 and contribute less than 1% of all COVID-19 deaths (none among the more than 30,000 COVID-19 deaths in Italy).
  • It is not likely that a vaccine will become available in the near future. Without this, control of the infection would require about 60% of the population to develop immunity. This will take time and while there is considerable uncertainty over the number of deaths that may occur from COVID-19 over the next two years, current evidence suggests that it may be less than originally estimated.
  • An extended lockdown comes with substantial health costs. These include costs brought about by undermining public health initiatives such as immunising children against threatening diseases and in the impaired provision of health services to those living with comorbidities such as diabetes, tuberculosis (TB), HIV and hypertension. Indeed, there is evidence that currently the gains made over recent years in reducing the rates of, and deaths from TB are being reversed.

Read more: Coronavirus risks forcing South Africa to make health trade-offs it can ill afford


  • SARS-CoV-2 is highly infectious, with a reproduction rate every four days of roughly 2.5 at the onset of the outbreak. The reproduction rate measures the number of people to whom an infected person will pass on the virus. When South Africa introduced the lockdown, the reproduction rate was low relative to other countries. However, South Africa’s reproduction rate has remained above 1, even under a highly restrictive lockdown. Indications are it will remain above 1 at least for the foreseeable future.
  • The hard, extended lockdown has come at a significant economic cost. While there is debate about the cost to date, with estimates from 5%-16% of GDP, economists agree that this has been significant.
  • The lockdown has also imposed social costs. For example, children are missing out on schooling. This is detrimental for their cognitive development and for many other reasons. Children are at risk of becoming malnourished due to missing out on school feeding schemes, as well as from the increasing number of families that are being pushed into poverty.

Read more: Why South Africa needs to ensure income security beyond the pandemic


South Africa needs to accept that it is not on a unique trajectory. The virus cannot be eliminated. The country’s strategy needs to move away from a hard lockdown. In our view, South Africa should focus on using interventions aimed at slowing the virus’ transmission rate.

The success of these interventions depends on the buy-in and cooperation of citizens. The message to South Africa must be clear: It is not going to be spared deaths from COVID-19. But it is possible to prevent some of these through our own actions and by promoting strategic public health interventions.
South Africa should plan to mitigate the effects of the pandemic using the above strategies for at least two years, or until a vaccine becomes available.

Areas of uncertainty

There are two important areas of additional uncertainty. The first is that it is too early to establish the effect of COVID-19 on people living with HIV. But emerging evidence appears to be reassuring. People living with HIV who are on antiretroviral treatment do not appear to be at an increased risk.

Secondly, South Africa is not achieving the testing levels or reporting speeds required to contain the spread through diagnosis and contact-tracing. This gets harder as infection rates rise. Without this, it is unlikely that the country will stay ahead of the epidemic.

South Africa’s strategic thinking should, therefore, be informed by the following:

  • The need to minimise infection in vulnerable, high-risk groups and, where possible, to minimise deaths from COVID-19. This requires clear communication on the actual threat of the virus, preventative strategies, and slowing the spread of the virus to levels that spare the healthcare system and the economy while preventing the economic effects themselves from causing death.
  • It is not possible to contain the spread through lockdowns, because of the economic cost and the fact that it is not possible to keep the reproduction rate at consistently low levels easing lockdown.

It is therefore vital that the country develops strategies to control the virus and simultaneously manage the health, social and economic implications without resorting to further lockdowns.

Economic strategy

We suggest that South Africa move rapidly to stage 2 lockdown and that a risk-assessed framework be adapted. We propose that such a framework permit all economic activity, except where there is a clear and material threat to public health. The other exception is activities that pose a high risk of transmission over a short period of time, for example, mass gatherings or transmission hotspots.

The framework should specify, by exception, any economic activity not allowed on public health grounds. This would see the reopening of critical areas of the economy coupled with current behavioural and societal mechanisms to slow the viral spread.

Within this framework, we also suggest that:

  • The health of workers should be a high priority. Precautions with respect to the protection of healthcare workers and protocols in healthcare settings require careful attention.
  • Regulations should specify employer responsibilities to ensure that the opening up of the economy does not result in flareups of infections.
  • Retail opening hours be extended to reduce density and exposure to the virus, with early pensioner-only hours.
  • The frequency of public transport services be increased to enable movement subject to the adoption of health protocols. These protocols can be enhanced as necessary.
  • The hours of work for accessing public services be extended to make it possible for the population to access services in ways consistent with health protocols.
  • For now, international travel for leisure should not be allowed.

The health risks associated with this economic strategy should be premised on effective strategies to mitigate the rapid rate of transmission of the virus. This is best achieved by:

  • Reinforcing physical distance measures in settings where people have no option but to gather, and paying attention to ventilation. In the case of busses and taxis, windows should be opened to prevent prolonged contact with potentially contaminated air.
  • Reinforcing evidence-based public health measures like hand washing. This should include providing sanitation to all communities.
  • The continued use of face masks for all outside of the home. Reusable masks must be made available to all communities free of charge.

This list is not exhaustive but sets parameters which can guide an adaptation to level 2.

The ability of the country to avert the possible full impact of the virus will only succeed if all citizens of South Africa cooperate willingly with measures aimed at slowing the rate of transmission. If that does not happen, the full might of this virus will manifest itself sooner rather than later, irrespective of the level of official lockdown.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

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The Myth of the Mask

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We still know it’s you, Cyril

By John Fraser

I get a lot of dirty looks when I go shopping,  But that’s better than getting just one dirty C-19 germ.

You see, I don’t want to catch this killer virus, and if I am already carrying it, I really don’t want to infect anyone else.

Yet it seems I am in a minority.

Walk into most stores and supermarkets, and it is virtually impossible to keep a safe distance from staff and other customers.  

True, they will spray your hands with sanitiser when you enter the emporium, but that ain’t going to help when somebody coughs ferociously.  While standing right next to you.

Staff huddle in clusters near the tills.  In both Woolworths. and Checkers I have run out of fingers on one hand when making a tally of members of the same group of anti-social non-distancers.

Adjacent tills are opened up, instead of spacing the cashiers, and it is impossible to pass through the checkout without getting dangerously close to the packer.  or the person on the neighbouring till.

Hence my fear of the myth of the mask.

Customers and staff alike seem to believe that if they have a bit of fabric over their face, they will be fine.      Not so.

There is some protection – much, much better than nothing. 

But you are playing Russian roulette with your own life and with the lives of others if you over-rely on any mask.  An ostrich with its head in the sand may feel safe.   And yet most of those I encounter make ostriches seem like Mensa members.,

Which is why I use my trolley as a weapon, to keep the pox-ridden hordes at bay.

I switch aisles if it looks unsafe – and try to avoid shelf-stackers, who show little or no understanding of the concept of social distancing.

I shout at people if they look as if they are coming too close.

More than once I have been told how rude I am.

No problem.   

I would rather be rude than stupid.  And dead.

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If you care for South Africa, please buy and drink our wine.

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Wonderful, wonderful Cape wine

By John Fraser
It may sound strange, stupid, authoritarian and cruel, but the sale of booze in SA is currently banned, under lockdown regulations which have been sponsored by a bunch of Cabinet Ministers who know what is best for us.   Or think they do.

The result is that an important component of farming, of retail, is in dire trouble.

South Africans themselves are pretty powerless to do much about it, but this does not mean that the many, many friends of South Africa in Britain, the rest of Europe, the US, Hong Kong – you name it – can lend a helping hic.

For the one ray of sunshine peeping through the dark clouds which have descended like a shroud over the Cape Winelands is a re-opening of export channels for SA booze.

This means, bizarrely, that while the shelves of SA supermarkets are bereft of wine, you can still buy it in most other parts of the world.

And why should you not choose a Cape creation?

There is no shortage of brilliant whites, reds, rosés, bubbles, ports, sherries (though the latter two have to be called something else), whiskies, brandies, liquors, beers……….   All proudly South African.

So come on, you Brits, you Yanks, you Frogs, and others.    If is no great sacrifice for you to pick up a case or ten of the Cape’s finest.   All qualities, all prices are available.

In doing so, you may help to save businesses and jobs – white, black and coloured – in a country which is suffering a dreadful economic recession, compounded by the Wuhan virus.

I promise that once this ban, the least admirable aspect of the lockdown regulations, is lifted, those of us with a parttriotic palate will do our best to help our local producers.  Buying Cap Classic instead of Champagne, Bordeaux Blends instead of Claret, and so on…..   Not that this was ever a problem in the past.

I cannot think of a more pleasant way to show your support for South Africa than to uncork or unscrew a bottle bursting with Cape sunshine.

So the next time you stock your cellar, buy South African booze for the evening meal or (as soon as this becomes possible again) do the same when you pop out for a decent meal.  Read the label.   Select South African.  Do your bit.

A few decades ago, the world helped South Africa to gain its freedom by boycotting our exports.

Now we need your help again.

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Ministers need to provide rational, fact-based, and truthful justifications for lockdown regulations

Minister Zuma

By Pierre de Vos

On Wednesday night, minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma published new lockdown regulations to deal with the Covid-19 crisis in South Africa. Some of the regulations will apply for the duration of the national state of disaster, while others relate specifically to the level 4 lockdown that commenced on the 1st of May.

Unfortunately, the regulations are not always a model of clarity. It is also not clear how some regulations, in fact, advance the stated goals of the declaration of a national disaster, rendering them vulnerable to constitutional attack.

From a constitutional perspective, arguments about the pros and cons of various lockdown regulations – the ban on the sale of cigarettes, alcohol and (maybe) some books, the introduction of a curfew between 20:00 and 05:00 each day, the ban on exercise except between 06:00 and 09:00 in the mornings, the treatment of informal traders – seem to miss the point. 

Legally the question is not whether the sale of certain products is a good or a bad thing. Neither is it relevant that the ban on certain activities might lower the crime rate or, conversely, might embolden members of the criminal underworld. Legally the broad question is whether a specific regulation can be justified, given the stated aims of the declaration of a national disaster.

Of course, it is not only for legal reasons that ministers should provide a proper, fact-based, rational, justification for every lockdown regulation they seek to impose. In a constitutional democracy, voters ultimately hold the government accountable at the ballot box, based on the available information. 

While some voters may blindly vote for the governing party (or for another party of their choice), others will make a decision on whether to return the government to power based on the performance of the government.

Some voters may well decide not to support an incumbent party when its government ministers fail to explain monumental decisions like the imposition of a lockdown or fail to advance rational reasons for specific regulations.

Moreover, in a constitutional democracy, it is thankfully not possible effectively to enforce draconian lockdown regulations without the buy-in of the public.

The most effective way to ensure buy-in is by providing members of the public with rational, fact-based, and truthful justifications for specific regulations. 

If the government treats the public with respect by providing us with honest, rational, fact-based justifications for the imposition of certain rules, we are more likely to trust the government in return and comply with the stringent restrictions. A failure to provide rational, fact-based, and truthful justifications, will diminish compliance and will, therefore, be counter-productive.

Matters will be made worse if the government decides to use the police and the military to try and impose its will by force in the face of widespread public resistance.

Back to the legal argument. There are at least two grounds on which the validity of lockdown regulations could be challenged. Both these grounds depend to some extent on whether a plausible and truthful justification was provided for a specific regulation. The justification must be related to achieving the purpose of the declaration of a national disaster.

First, to comply with the principle of legality, all regulations must at the very least be rationally related to the stated aims of the declaration of a national disaster.

Recall that the declaration of a national disaster allows for the promulgation of regulations, but only to the extent necessary for the purpose of (a) assisting and protecting the public; (b) providing relief to the public; (c) protecting property; (d) preventing or combating disruption; or (e) dealing with the destructive and other effects of the disaster. 

If a regulation is aimed at achieving another purpose altogether (like lowering the crime rate or promoting public health concerns not directly related to the Covid-19 crisis), it would not meet the minimum requirement for validity.

If the regulation is aimed at achieving one of these stated goals, but there is no rational link between what the regulation actually says and its stated purpose, this would also render the regulation invalid. 

An absurd example: If a regulation requires members of the public to appear in public wearing purple masks (based on the superstition that purple wards off evil), it will not be rationally related to the aim of slowing or suppressing the spread of Covid-19.

Another example: a regulation that prohibits the sale of KFC because the consumption of large amounts of KFC is fattening and may cause diabetes will not be rationally related to the purpose of slowing or suppressing the spread of Covid-19 and will be invalid.

Second, where a regulation limits one of the rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, the regulation will only be constitutionally valid if it is justifiable in terms of the limitation clause. Many of the lockdown regulations do limit rights protected in the Bill of Rights.

The right to equality, dignity, and freedom of movement, and the right to access to food and housing may be of particular importance in the current situation.

In terms of section 36 of the Constitution, the rights in the Bill of Rights may be limited:

only in terms of law of general application to the extent that the limitation is reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom, taking into account all relevant factors, including (a) the nature of the right; (b) the importance of the purpose of the limitation; (c) the nature and extent of the limitation; (d)  the relation between the limitation and its purpose; and (e) less restrictive means to achieve the purpose.

Once it is established that a regulation limits a right – as many of the lockdown regulations do – the burden to justify the limitation lies with the government, who must provide both factual material and policy considerations that might justify the limitation. In Moise v Greater Germiston Transitional Local Council the Constitutional Court explained this as follows:

The weighing up exercise is ultimately concerned with the proportional assessment of competing interests but, to the extent that justification rests on factual and/or policy considerations, the party contending for justification must put such material before the Court… If the government wishes to defend the particular enactment, it then has the opportunity – indeed an obligation – to do so. The obligation includes not only the submission of legal argument but the placing before Court of the requisite factual material and policy considerations…. [The] failure by government to submit such data and argument may in appropriate cases tip the scales against it and result in the invalidation of the challenged enactment.

Some of the lockdown regulations are likely to run into legal trouble because the government would not be able to provide a plausible factual basis for the assumptions underlying a regulation. Others may run into trouble because there is no obvious link between the regulation and its stated purpose.

But the most serious problem might well be that the purpose of the lockdown could have been achieved by regulations that infringe on the rights of citizens in a less drastic manner. 

As an example, let us look at the curfew which is being imposed from 20:00 each night to 05:00 the next morning. This provision clearly limits the right to freedom of movement guaranteed in section 21 of the Bill of Rights in quite an extreme manner. It is at best unclear that there is a factual basis for this regulation.

Has there been significant movement of people after 20:00 during the lockdown so far? Is there any factual basis that such movement increases the risk of infection? 

Furthermore, other regulations already restrict movement in a radical way, so it is not clear why this rule is necessary. To make things worse, no exception is made to allow individuals to go out for household emergencies like the need to buy electricity or airtime.

It would, therefore, be surprising if a court did not find that this provision limits the right to freedom of movement in a manner not justified by section 36.

The same logic applies to the restriction on exercise to the period from 06:00 to 09:00 in the morning. What is the actual purpose of this rule? I would guess it is aimed at making it easier to police the regulations.

But that does not seem to be a good reason to limit people’s right to freedom of movement as mere convenience will never justify a radical limitation on a constitutional right.

Furthermore, there does not seem to be a factual basis for the assumption that more people will get infected if they exercise after 09:00. Unlike other regulations that enforce physical distancing, there does not seem to be any relation between the limitation and the legitimate purpose of slowing down or suppressing the spread of Covid-19.

Less restrictive means – like strictly enforcing the ban on people exercising together – could surely be employed to achieve the same purpose. 

Here I am not primarily interested in the two regulations used as examples above. Instead, my aim is to show that it is not constitutionally permitted to impose limits on rights, without having a very good reason to do so.

The aim must always be to impose only such limits that are directly linked to the purpose of the lockdown and to limit rights as little as possible. 

We are not living in a state of emergency. Rights have not been suspended.

That means the duty of government ministers to justify the limitation of rights in accordance with the limitation clause have also not been suspended.

Such justifications must not be bizarre and spurious but must be fact-based, rational and truthful.

When no justification is offered, or where the justification appears to be irrational, it erodes trust in government and threatens the efficacy of the lockdown.

It also renders the regulations open to constitutional challenge and invalidation.

Prof Pierre de Vos is the Claude Leon Foundation Chair in Constitutional Governance, Head: Department of Public Law, at the University of Cape Town

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