Sakeliga starts contempt of court proceedings against Dlamini-Zuma over Covid lockdown records

Business organisation Sakeliga has started contempt of court proceedings against Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Covid-19 lockdown records

This after the minister allegedly failed to meet a 6 January 2023 deadline to provide the organisation with government’s decision-making records during South Africa’s Covid-19 lockdowns that lasted for more than two years.

In November last year, Sakeliga successfully obtained a court order instructing Dlamini-Zuma to submit several records related to the National State of Disaster and lockdown restrictions after its application in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act to access the documents was denied.

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The organisation’s legal officer, Tian Alberts, on Monday said Dlamini-Zuma failed to submit the records despite a court order compelling her to do so.

Instead of submitting the documents, Alberts said the state attorney – on Dlamini-Zuma’s instruction – submitted records concerning isolated decisions that were already available in the public domain, particularly related to the April 2020 ban on the sale and distribution of tobacco.

“Reacting to the extended due date, the state attorney delivered to the offices of our attorneys boxes of files – approximately 3 800 pages – consisting exclusively of documents for public participation and research documents relating to the April 2020 ban on the sale and distribution of tobacco.

“The 3 800 pages have been directly copied from court files from an action at the time concerning the ban on tobacco, in which the minister was a respondent. No minutes of meetings, interdepartmental correspondence and draft regulations have been submitted,” Alberts said in a statement.

Contempt of court proceedings

Alberts said Sakeliga demanded that the state attorney produces, by 11 January, a satisfactory explanation of Dlamini-Zuma’s failure to submit the records.

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He said this step initiates a thorough process that must be followed to have a person declared guilty of contempt of court. And the next step was likely to be a court application.

“While it is already clear that Dlamini-Zuma is attempting to obstruct Sakeliga and defying the court, it is a procedural requirement that her contempt should be proven in a further distinct court application. In this way, the minister can be compelled either to disclose the records or to face imprisonment.”

Criticism over SA’s lockdown regulations

Government had been heavily criticised for the decisions implemented under the Disaster Management Act during the lockdowns – including the banning of the sale of cigarettes and alcohol.

The Ramaphosa-led administration also came under fire for its multiple extensions of the National State of Disaster that started on 15 March 2020 and ended on 4 April 2022 without parliamentary oversight.

Sakeliga has argued that the country’s lockdown restrictions caused enormous damage to the economy and livelihoods for over two years.

While Dlamini-Zuma took her decisions on lockdown regulations largely or with the support of President Cyril Ramaphosa and Cabinet, the organisation said the minister was the focus of their application because she – as the minister of Cogta – was legally responsible for the decisions. 

“Sakeliga express the hope that the court order we have already obtained and any resultant contempt applications will enable members of the public to hold the state accountable for harmful decisions of the past and to fend off similar government conduct in the future.”

The Citizen has reached out to Cogta spokesperson Lunga Mtshali for comment on Sakeliga’s legal action. This article will be updated once comment is received.

Compiled by Thapelo Lekabe

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