Minister in the Presidency and acting communications minister Jackson Mthembu has explained the reason behind the continued postponements of media briefings about regulations set to come into effect on 1 June as Level 3 kicks in, saying government had to include regulations around the opening of places of worship.
The minister, on the sidelines of of Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting, explained that the decision taken by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday evening to allow churches to have services needed to be included in the new regulations.
Ramaphosa said on Tuesday the government had decided to accede to requests from the churches to allow them to gather and for church leaders to be classified as providing essential services, so they could continue with their role of offering emotional, psychological and spiritual support in communities.
“With what the president said after meeting with the churches, we therefore needed to craft regulations that allowed churches to operate. We needed to include those regulations so that we are in keeping with the pronouncements that have been made by the president,” said Mthembu.
He said the government’s National Coronavirus Command Council’s briefing would go ahead on Thursday at 2pm, led by Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
Mthembu also said, while the government was carving out the Level 3 regulations to include the churches, there was no worry that legal challenges would follow.
“We don’t see any legal action. Many industries will be opening. We are prepared as government to enter into any discussions. As we speak, restaurants, tourism and other sectors are speaking to the minister of tourism,” he said.
“Government is open to persuasion on condition of ensuring that our people are not infected by this virus,” he added.
South Africa is navigating its way trough a 10-week lockdown, which was implemented by Ramaphosa in March.
The lockdown was aimed at combating the spread of the novel Covid-19 pandemic.
Mthembu said the new regulations had to spell out what church gatherings needed to look like, including the amounts of people permitted to gather and the required safety protocols, such as sanitation and social distancing.
He said other regulations were in line with the identified hotspots around the country.
While the president had said the entire country was to move to Level 3, he highlighted areas of concern – including Cape Town, Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and Ethekwini – and committed to put more effort into combating the spread of the pandemic in those areas and their home provinces.
“As you would know, there are many hotspots that we are dealing with in the country that are infected by the coronavirus, so also you need different regulations that are directed and targeting those hotspots,” Mthembu said.
Mthembu said the government accepted frustrations expressed over the delays and some lapses in communication, but was doing its best under difficult circumstances.