Pretoria – By sending children back to school, the government was releasing them into a “raging fire”, counsel for former DA leader Mmusi Maimane argued yesterday in the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria.
Maimane and his One South Africa movement were arguing against the reopening of the schools.
They also asked a full Bench, headed by Judge President Dunstan Mlambo, to urgently overturn the decision by the government to move from level 4 of the lockdown regulations to level 3.
Advocate Dali Mpofu, acting for the applicants, argued that the government was simply not ready to ease the regulations in the light of the soaring number of Covid-19 infections.
He said that Health Minister Dr. Zweli Mkhize had admitted that, according to the World Health Organization, South Africa did not qualify to move to level 3.
Mpofu argued that the lockdown regulations should only be eased once the number of infections had reduced and once the government had a constructive plan in place on how to deal with these issues.
“We are now in another South Africa. It is not enough for the government to have a wish list. We say there must be an implementation plan,” Mpofu told the three judges.
He said Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga’s stance was that there was a plan in place to safeguard schools, but this was not enough.
“We need an implementation plan. She can promise there will be water, but it’s not up to her. She must speak to the Minister of Water and Sanitation about it. We say there is no plan in place,” Mpofu said.
He argued that the two legs of what they were asking – that schools not reopen, and that the government’s decision to move from level 4 to level 3 be overturned – went hand in hand.
“It is mind boggling how the Cabinet decided on the same date to reopen schools as well as the economy.”
Mpofu argued that this released millions of people on to the streets.
He further argued that the government’s stance that children were not susceptible to the virus was meaningless as they could take it back home where there may be family members with comorbidities.
He also questioned the government’s statement that children at schools should not share desks.
“What if there are not enough desks in rural areas? The government needs to be sensitive to the realities,” Mpofu said.
Arguments on behalf of the government, including President Cyril Ramaphosa and Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, were mainly based on the applicants’ bid to have the move from level 4 to level 3 overturned.
It was argued that the initial lockdown was a success and it allowed time to re-equip the country’s health-care facilities. The private sector, community organisations, and South Africans also had time to take measures to reduce the transmission of the virus.
In view of these interventions the government determined that the country was better placed to ease some of the stringent lockdown restrictions, the court was told.
It was said that while the saving of lives remained a priority, the government remained aware of the looming economic crisis and consequent socio-economic hardship caused by the lockdown.
According to the government, it decided to ease the lockdown after consulting widely with experts.
It was argued that the gradual phasing in of the reopening of the schools, based on expert advice, would enable the government to monitor the situation as it unfolded, and adapt where necessary.
Judgment was reserved.