President Cyril Ramaphosa has been urged against becoming hubristic to questions and criticism posed by officers of the court after the presidency responded sharply to two advocates calling for clarity on the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC).
In a seven-page letter, attorney Tracey Lomax questioned Ramaphosa’s willingness to transparently respond to questions around the constitutionality of the NCCC, the body leading the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I regret that I must now urge you not to become hubristic. Do not dismiss us. Do not condescend to us. Take us into your confidence. Not only are we entitled to it, we deserve it. We have earned it,” Lomax wrote.
Last week, advocates Nazeer Cassim and Erin Dianne Richards wrote to Ramaphosa, indicating their concern over the possible risk of constitutional and democratic malfunctioning.
This, they said, arose from what appears to be the questionable establishment, structure and functions of the NCCC, as well as the noticeable lack of transparency from the government about the body.
In her letter, Lomax said Ramaphosa’s response was uncharacteristic of the president she had come to know, adding that the two advocates requested information to which the country is entitled.
“I am disappointed that such a request would warrant a response that the request ‘places in jeopardy all measures taken to save South African lives’. This is most unfortunate and is likely to have chilling effect on anyone who wishes to raise legitimate concerns with your office in particular and with government in general. A preferable response would have been to simply answer the question,” she said.
Responding to Cassim and Richards, presidency director-general Dr Cassius Lubisi defended the establishment of the NCCC, adding that the two advocates should rather make alternative suggestions instead of threatening the president with litigation.
On Tuesday, DA federal council chair Helen Zille, while in conversation with party interim leader John Steenhuisen, also questioned the transparency of the NCCC. She added that very little detail on the composition of the council, and how it takes its decisions on regulations, had been revealed to the country.
“The problem is that we do not know the composition of the [NCCC]. Is it indeed composed only of Cabinet members or are there other persons on the [NCCC]? The deliberations of this body are private, and it exercises enormous power at a time when basic human rights are, by necessity, curtailed.
“What advocates Cassim and Richards were inviting you to do is to clearly explain the role of the [NCCC] and the powers of the ministers. South Africans deserve to know the facts, in order to reduce speculation, and give us a much-needed sense of security,” Lomax said.
She also took offence at the presidency’s assertion that Richards and Cassim were placing in danger the lives of citizens, adding that Ramaphosa was grossly misinterpreting the tone and content of their letter.
“Most of us have faithfully heeded your call for social distancing, your call to protect our fellow citizens. We have isolated ourselves from friends and family, we have sacrificed many of the things which give meaning to life – social interaction with loved ones, a simple hug, a gentle touch.
“We have done so because we trusted you. That trust becomes fractured when our concerns are dismissed, when you go from family elder to condescending parent in tone and conduct.
“I urge you to reconsider the position adopted by your office and your government. We are not your children. We are your citizens.”