Section 37 of the constitution puts it beyond question that some of our rights can be “suspended” subject to stringent safeguards, during a state of emergency. No state of emergency has yet been declared. But on March 15, the department of co-operative governance and traditional affairs promulgated “state of disaster” regulations under the Disaster Management Act, as part of its bid to combat the spread of the coronavirus and the surrounding panic.

These regulations represent significant infringements of South Africans’ constitutional rights and civil liberties. It might be argued that this is legally justifiable for the duration of the crisis, but we must always remember that consistent civilian vigilance on abuses of government power is an important part of constitutional democracy...

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