Webinar: Reviewing the 2020 lockdown: Seeking a balance of rights [26 March 2021]

This webinar is part of the Dullah Omar Institute's Webinar Series: The one-year ‘unwanted anniversary’ of COVID-19 restrictions
  • What DOI Event
  • When 26 Mar, 2021 from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM (Africa/Johannesburg / UTC200)
  • Where Zoom (Virtual meeting)
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This webinar reviews the imposition of “hard” lockdown on 26 March 2020 by the South African government. The “hard” lockdown imposed unprecedented restrictions on rights and freedoms. Such restrictions must be justified in order to be constitutional. What are the constitutional requirements for the balancing of competing rights and for the limitation of rights?

The hard lockdown had serious health impacts on the population at large. When considering the appropriateness and constitutionality of lockdown policies, broader health issues, including mental health and public health impacts, must also form part of the balancing equation, as must questions of medical ethics. To what extent was sufficient cognisance taken of these? How might divergent public health goals be balanced in future?

Criminal justice system processes were used to enforce the restrictions on rights, limiting amongst others, the right to freedom and security of the person. Hundreds of thousands of people were deprived of their liberty for infringements of lockdown restrictions. Many were further detained in custody after their initial appearances in court. Some were killed or injured by police or army in enforcing restrictions. This is inimical to the professed intention of the restrictions. Are criminal justice system processes suitable ways of implementing public health interventions, particularly in a developing country context?

Prisoners are particularly vulnerable. Part of government’s response was to follow international advice to reduce the size of the prison population. In particular, anyone whose parole date was within the next 5 years was/is eligible for parole, with a limited number of exclusions. This led to some offenders serving no time in custody at all, and while proper parole processes were supposed to be followed, it is unclear the extent to which this occurred. At the same time, however, prisoners were denied many of their basic rights such as the right to consult a lawyer, to see their families, and to have their trial proceed without delay. Furthermore oversight of prison institutions came to a standstill. This state of affairs continued for an extended period. What could have been done differently in respect of prisons?



  • Nico Steytler
  • Leandri Hattingh
  • Jean Redpath
  • Lukas Muntingh



Following registration, participants will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

ACJR wishes to acknowledge the Open Society Foundation-South Africa and the Sigrid Rausing Trust for making this webinar possible.