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Comment on possible forced relocations

- Lee-Anne Bruce

A response to the State identifying areas for de-densification in an effort to combat the spread of Coronavirus

The President has declared a National State of Disaster as at 15 March 2020, in line with the Disaster Management Act. The Act empowers the State to effect “the evacuation to temporary shelters of all or part of the population from the disaster-stricken or threatened area if such action is necessary for the preservation of life”. 

All State conduct must nevertheless continue to be constitutional, and Constitution section 33 requires that such conduct be lawful, reasonable and procedurally fair. Procedurally fair conduct includes consulting with those people who will be affected by any State decisions. In this instance, that means that any people who the State seeks to move must be consulted about that move.

While this right can be limited, that limitation must be both reasonable and justifiable, given its nature and extent. We do not believe that persons can be moved to a new, temporary site without consulting them, and taking into account the amenities provided at that site (including the provision of access to shelter, electricity, water, sanitation and healthcare), as well as the distance of that site from their current dwellings for purposes of access to jobs, schooling and family life.

We appreciate the State’s need to act swiftly to combat the spread of Covid-19, but in our constitutional dispensation we cannot allow State power to be abused in a manner that causes greater damage than that which it seeks to mitigate. Therefore, the following minimum conditions should be met:

  • Meaningful engagement with affected individuals and groups
  • No break up of families
  • Relocation to sites that have proper amenities
  • Clear time-frames for temporary reallocation
  • Gender sensitivity
  • No discrimination against undocumented persons.