In a briefing to media on Thursday, 11 March 2021, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet announced the extension of South Africa’s national state of disaster by a further month. The National State of Disaster will continue until 15 April 2021. The National State of Disaster was declared on the 15th of March 2020 under Section 27(1) and 27(2) of the Disaster Management Act.
The state of disaster was initially set to lapse on 15 June – three months after it came into effect – the act however provides that it may be extended by the Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) minister for a month at a time before it lapses. The official directive confirming the extension has not yet been gazetted by Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
The latest extension marks a full year since the first state of disaster was introduced, with opponents criticising the South African government for perpetually extending a state of disaster without any oversight. The opposition Democratic Alliance, in February announced plans to introduce the Draft Disaster Management Bill, which aims to change South Africa’s laws around how a state of disaster is handled.
“It may be argued that the scope of the minister’s powers under a national state of disaster are necessary to enable the national executive to deal effectively with phenomena such as the Covid-19 pandemic, but save for the requirement of publication, the act does not provide for any formal procedural constraints on how these powers are to be exercised,” the DA said.
“The risks so created for the abuse of state power resemble the risks that have historically been associated with a state of emergency.”
The DA added that, unlike the State of Emergency Act which was introduced in 1997, the current Disaster Management Act does not allow parliament to review the extension of a national state of disaster. The proposed Disaster Management Amendment Bill aims to change this by establishing similar parliamentary supervision over national states of disaster.
In this way, it will also act as a ‘bulwark’ against executive encroachment on the legislative authority of parliament, it said.
“The draft bill therefore seeks to subject the wide-ranging powers of the Minister to declare and extend a national state of disaster, and to make subordinate legislation pursuant to such a declaration, subject to parliamentary supervision.
“The draft bill also seeks to limit the initial period a national state of disaster can be declared to the same 21-day limit that our law currently places on a state of emergency, the latter resembling the former in key respects.”