An SANDF soldier directs residents during a food distribution in Diepsloot, Johannesburg, on May 8 2020. Picture: AFP/EMMANUEL CROSET
An SANDF soldier directs residents during a food distribution in Diepsloot, Johannesburg, on May 8 2020. Picture: AFP/EMMANUEL CROSET

The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), charged with upholding the rights of citizens in SA, was accused by MPs for remaining silent while citizens’s rights were being trampled upon during the lockdown on Friday.

The commission was subjected to a barrage of questions by opposition MPs on Friday about what it is doing to counter the human rights abuses occurring under the Covid-19 lockdown.

The chair, Prof Bongani Majola, and executives of the SAHRC appeared before parliament’s justice and correctional services committee to present its strategic and annual performance plans but were grilled by opposition MPs on what it is doing about such things as the constitutionality of the curfew imposed by the lockdown regulations; the regulation limiting the distribution of food relief to central government and the effect of this on people’s right to food; the limitation of the right to follow an occupation, trade and profession; and the public’s right to have access to the data and modelling that government is using for its lockdown decision-making, which has been kept secret.

African Christian Democratic Party MP Steve Swart called on the SAHRC to take much stronger action against breaches of human rights under the lockdown and to hold the government to account. The UN Commission on Human Rights has condemned the excessive force being used to enforce SA’s lockdown regulations.

“You need to lift your game significantly at this time,” Swart said. It is totally unacceptable, he added, that churches and NGOs are not allowed to distribute food.

However, EFF MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi said opposition parties are intent on undermining the lockdown and it is “fundamentally petty” to be concerned about people being denied the right to go to the beach, for example, when people are dying in the coronavirus pandemic.

Majola acknowledged that the lockdown has implications for human rights in the country but said some of the limitations of rights are necessary to achieve its objectives.

But the commission has taken action.

A letter had been sent to social development minister Lindiwe Zulu asking her to correct matters the SAHRC does not believe are acceptable. Another letter is pending to see how non-profit organisations could be involved in food distribution. It has also raised the issue of overcrowded offices of the SA Social Security Agency.

Majola said the commission has strongly condemned the conduct of the police and SANDF soldiers in implementing the lockdown regulations, sometimes in a heavy-handed manner. Some matters have been referred to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) and a letter has been written to defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula pointing out the violations and asking her to put a stop to them.

Monitoring has been made difficult as many staff members are at home. The SAHRC also complained about the non-responsiveness of some government departments to its recommendations.

ensorl@businesslive.co.za

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