The Disaster Management Act has suddenly and frighteningly become relevant for all South Africans. It is our hope this article may accurately reflect what we might all need to know in the weeks and possibly months ahead.
As with all legislation, certain definitions play a major role, it’s helpful to look at those first:
A “disaster” means a progressive or sudden, widespread or localised, natural or human-caused occurrence which-
(a) causes or threatens to cause-
- (i) death, injury or disease;
- (ii) damage to property, infrastructure or the environment; or
- (iii) disruption of the life of a community; and
(b) is of a magnitude that exceeds the ability of those affected by the disaster to cope with its effects using only their own resources;
Is the COVID-19 threat and the resultant lockdown a disaster? Absolutely. The virus is a disease which greatly exceeds our individual ability to cope with its effects. We are all, potentially affected. It is hoped that the lockdown will increase the Nation’s ability to cope, or at least provide some capacity to deal with the magnitude of the effect of the virus.
“disaster management” means a continuous and integrated multi-sectoral, multi-disciplinary process of planning and implementation of measures aimed at-
- (a) preventing or reducing the risk of disasters;
- (b) mitigating the severity or consequences of disasters;
- (c) emergency preparedness;
- (d) a rapid and effective response to disasters; and
- (e) post-disaster recovery and rehabilitation;
The State of Disaster declared on 15 March and the resultant lockdown to be implemented on midnight of the 26th are both measures aimed at reducing the risk, mitigating severity and providing some light in what could be a very grim tunnel towards normality. We should support Government’s efforts and comply, wholeheartedly.
Mechanisms of the Act:
The Disaster Management Act provides a framework under which all the tasks, powers and responsibilities currently in force are to be executed. The framework is available here. Important in this framework are the following:
The National Disaster Management Advisory Forum, which has developed the framework. It is incredible detailed and provides for investigation, collaboration, performance indicators and risk assesment.
The National Disaster Management Centre: established as an institution within the public service, this is the hub from which planning, feedback from the forum and other activities will be taking place. The purpose, according to section 9, is to ‘promote an integrated and co-ordinated system of disaster management, with special emphasis on prevention and mitigation, by national, provincial and municipal organs of state, statutory functionaries and other roleplayers involved in disaster management and communities.
Importantly, in terms of section 17, the Centre must act as a repository of, and conduit for information concerning disasters and disaster management. Section 18 gives the Centre wide powers to collect relevant information from relevant persons, a task which they have seemingly undertaken in close consultation with the National Institute for Communicable Diseases. This is a national disaster and so the discussion of provincial or municipal scale disasters would not be helpful right now, but the Act does allow for disasters to be managed on a more localised scale.
Prevention & Mitigation of Disaster:
Section 20 places a heavy emphasis on the Centre, to the extent that it has the capacity, to give guidance
to organs of state, the private sector, non-governmental organisations, communities and
individuals to assess and prevent or reduce the risk of disasters, including-
- ways and means of-
(i) determining levels of risk;
(ii) assessing the vulnerability of communities and households to disasters
(iii) increasing the capacity of communities and households to minimise the risk and impact of disasters that may occur; and
(iv) monitoring the likelihood of, and the state of alertness to, disasters that may occur; as well as:
- the development and implementation of appropriate prevention and mitigation methodologies; and
- the integration of prevention and mitigation methodologies with development plans, programmes and initiatives; and the management of high-risk developments.
The National Centre must promote formal and informal initiatives that encourage risk-avoidance behaviour by organs of state, the private sector, non-governmental organisations, communities and individuals.
Powers of the Centre:
Once a National State of Disaster is declared, then the Centre has the power to, in terms section 27(2), make regulations and issue directives concerning:
- (a) the release of any available resources of the national government including stores, equipment, vehicles and facilities;
- (b) the release of personnel of a national organ of state for the rendering of emergency services;
- (c) the implementation of all or any of the provisions of a national disaster management plan that are applicable in the circumstances;
- (d) the evacuation to temporary shelters of all or part of the population from the disaster-stricken or threatened area if such action is necessary for the preservation of life;
- (e) the regulation of traffic to. from or within the disaster-stricken or threatened area;
- (f) the regulation of the movement of persons and goods to, from or within the disaster-stricken or threatened area.
Effects of the State of Disaster:
What we should learn is the State, many years ago, reserved itself the powers and provided the mechanisms which, God willing, will save many lives in the coming weeks and months. This state of Disaster is definitely going to have an effect your contracts, which we write about here, and most certainly on labour and working policy, which we hope to shed some light on in another article here.
Most importantly, is that we need to respect the Government’s constitutional mandate to implement these measures and trust that these measures are implemented for the good and to the lease possible detriment of all.
Let us heed the president’s call to play our part, one and all. To be a nation at one that will surely prevail.
Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrica. Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso. May God protect our people.
Should you have any queries regarding the above, do let us help. This is not meant to constitute legal advice, but merely to help with understanding. You are most welcome to contact us.