The declaration of the national state of disaster gives the government powers it would not otherwise have. The person yielding much of that power is the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
On Sunday evening, after a Cabinet meeting, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the outbreak of the coronavirus (Covid-19) in the country had been declared a national disaster.
A state of national disaster was subsequently declared – and it was done in terms of the Disaster Management Act.
The Act requires the head of the National Disaster Management Centre, Mmaphaka Tau, to assess a disastrous event and whether it should be declared as a disaster in terms of the Act.
In a notice published in a government gazette on Sunday, Tau did just that.
The Act then gives the relevant minister – Dlamini-Zuma – the power to declare a state of national disaster if existing legislation and contingency arrangements do not adequately provide for the government to adequately deal with the situation, or “other special circumstances warrant the declaration of a national state of a disaster”.
In the same government gazette, Dlamini-Zuma announced that she had declared a state of national disaster.
The Act then allows her to, when required, make regulations or issue directions for the purpose of:
- assisting and protecting the public;
- providing relief to the public;
- protecting property;
- preventing or combating disruption; or
- dealing with the destructive and other effects of the disaster.
These could be seen as the limits of her power, and the regulations must be made in consultation with the relevant Cabinet member.
At the press briefing with Cabinet colleagues on Monday, Dlamini-Zuma said her priority was to finalise the regulations that would guide the government’s response to the disaster. She expected it to be ready later on Monday.
The Act allows her to issue regulations that will release any of the available resources of government, including stores, equipment, vehicles and facilities, and to release state personnel to deliver emergency services. This makes it easier to deploy the state’s resources.
Regulations for emergency procurement procedures can also be issued. This means that the normal state procurement rules and the requirement to obtain multiple quotes fall away.
The sale of alcohol can also be suspended or limited.
First minister of health
The regulations can also be used to maintain or install temporary lines of communication and the dissemination of information.
Dlamini-Zuma qualified as a medical doctor and served as the democratic dispensation’s first Minister of Health from 1994 to 1999.
Thereafter, she held Cabinet posts as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Home Affairs.
In 2012, she became the chairperson of the African Union Commission.
At the end of her term in 2017, she was Ramaphosa’s main challenger for the ANC presidency.
He appointed her as Minister in the Presidency in his first Cabinet in 2018 and then to her current post after last year’s election.