Jean-Jacques Cornish

The battle against COVID 19 caught in the web of the law

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by Jean-Jacques Cornish

South Africa’s courts have been a constant in the country’s hazardous path through wicked colonization, cruel apartheid and the vagaries of democracy.

So it is both inevitable and desirable that they should be called upon to rule on events in the biggest crisis the country has faced since the Second World War 75 years ago.

Government has assumed unprecedented powers to deal with the COVID 19 pandemic.

These have had an immediate impact on the rights of South Africans guaranteed in their Constitution that is justifiably the envy of most of the world.

They will also have an unfathomable long term impact on the socio-economic life of South Africa that is euphemistically referred to as challenging.

The first legal foray is being launched by British American Tobacco South Africa and the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association.

They argue that the National Coronavirus Command Council has taken measures that fly in the face of individuals right  to choose and are unnecessarily injurious to the exchequer. They further argue that the the NCCC is suffocating the country’s socio economic prospects.

Government counters that the prevention of tobacco and alcohol sales during the lockdown are justified on purely health grounds.

They say these steps have been emulated by Mexico Hong Kong and Greenland.

The second matter to come before the courts is challenging the  constitutional mandate  and the power of NCCC.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is being asked to explain the source of the power he has wielded delegating executive functions to a body that includes some but not all of his Cabinet.

To this, government will cite Constitutional Court President Arthur Chaskalson 1995 ruling outlawing capital punishment.

Judge Chaskalson said that the rights to life and dignity are the most important of them all. In make any ruling on human rights, these have to be placed above all else.

Ramaphosa argues that regulations put in place to combat COVID 19 are founded on government’s commitment to life and dignity.

In extreme circumstances, he holds, it is necessary to put a temporary restriction on other rights like the freedom of choice, movement and association.

Education is at the root of the third legal challenge.

The Tebelia Institute for Leadership, Education, Governance and Training 

and the Africa Institute on Human Rights and Constitutional Litigation are challenging the opening of schools.

They say government cannot keep parents at home to prevent the spread of COVID 19 while sending innocent children to school to save the academic year.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga  says, in effect, it is still up in the air.

She acknowledges that her department has indicated children could be returning to school as early as this week.

However, she says it is only the “education sector” not necessarily the schools themselves that  have opened up today.

As Tom Wolfe said in Bonfire of the Vanities, we are truly now in the web of the law.

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Jean-Jacques Cornish is a journalist and broadcaster who has been involved in the media all his adult life.

Starting as a reporter on his hometown newspaper, he moved briefly to then Rhodesia before returning to South Africa to become a parliamentary correspondent with the South African Press Association. He was sent to London as Sapa’s London editor and also served as special correspondent to the United Nations. He joined the then Argus group in London as political correspondent.

Returning to South Africa after 12 years abroad, he was assistant editor on the Pretoria News for a decade before becoming editor of the Star and SA Times for five years.

Since 1999 he’s been an independent journalist writing and broadcasting – mainly about Africa – for Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape
Talk, Radio France International, PressTV, Radio Live New Zealand, Business Day, Mail & Guardian, the BBC, Agence France Press,
Business in Africa, Leadership, India Today, the South African Institute for International Affairs and the Institute for Security Studies.

He has hosted current affairs talk shows on Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape Talk. He appears as an African affairs pundit on SABC Africa and CNBC Africa.
He lectured in contemporary studies to journalism students at the Tshwane University of Technology and the University of Pretoria.

He speaks on African affairs to corporate and other audiences.
He has been officially invited as a journalist to more than 30 countries. He was the winner of the 2007 SADC award for radio journalism.

He’s been a member of the EISA team observing elections in Somaliland, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Egypt and Tunsiai.

In October 2009 he headed a group of 39 African journalists to the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Peoples’ Republic of China.

In January 2010 he joined a rescue and paramedical team to earthquake struck Haiti.

He is immediate past president of the Alliance Francaise of Pretoria.

Jean-Jacques is a director of Giant Media. The company was given access to Nelson Mandela in his retirement years until 2009.
He is co-producer of the hour-long documentary Mandela at 90 that was broadcast on BBC in January 2009.