Reyno de Beer of the Liberty Fighters Network (LFN) has spent years waging war against the banks, property investment companies and speculators over unlawful repossessions and evictions, and has accumulated more than a few impressive court victories along the way.
He has no formal legal training, other than an aborted effort to complete a BCom Law degree, abandoned due to lack of funds.
But that hasn’t stopped him from taking on the whales of the legal world.
Legal experts like consumer crusader Leonard Benjamin have commended De Beer’s guts and the careful framing of his legal arguments.
And he now has Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in his sights. This week he fired off a letter to the minister and her legal team giving her five days to amend lockdown regulations already declared unconstitutional by the courts, or she will face a contempt of court charge – which is a criminal offence.
This follows an action brought by LFN in June last year in the Pretoria High Court declaring the national state of disaster, established under the Disaster Management Act, declared unconstitutional and unlawful.
Judge Norman Davis ruled that most of the regulations were irrational and invalid.
This ruling was appealed by government, and the case has ricocheted through the courts since then.
Earlier this month Judge Davis ruled again, this time dismissing LFN’s application to have the national state of disaster declared invalid, and to declare Dlamini-Zuma in contempt of court for not amending the offending regulations after the June 2020 judgment.
Davis explained that “the factual, regulatory and legal landscapes” had undergone unprecedented changes since the Covid lockdown was first announced in March 2020.
De Beer says behind all the legal argument is a frightening overreach of government power dressed up as a health crisis.
The crisis required every South African to surrender their human rights to unaccountable authorities, often guided by poor science.
Millions of people have been thrown out of work, lost their businesses or suffered a reduction in income, while no serious effort appears to have been made to find less drastic measures to avert this outcome.
Lockdown regulations were amended several times, presenting a moving target for the various groups challenging them.
Judge agrees with ‘absurdity’ of beach ban
LFN pointed to the ridiculousness of banning beach visits in its campaign to contain the spread of the virus, and claimed the science behind mask-wearing is unconvincing. The group also wants the ban on religious gatherings overturned, though Judge Davis said this had been rendered moot by the latest amendment to the lockdown regulations allowing for church gatherings up to certain limits.
Despite a judgment that appears to go heavily against LFN, Davis did agree with some aspects of the LFN case, such as the “absurdity” of the beach ban, which has since been lifted.
While a plain reading of the judgment suggests victory for the government, this is far from the case, according to De Beer.
“The government’s appeal against the June 2020 judgment had lapsed by 12 October 2020 due to the minister’s late filing of her court papers. We are saying that renders all of her regulations under the Disaster Management Act to be null and void, which means any of the restrictions on going to beaches, religious gatherings, selling alcohol outside the regulated times – all of these are of no legal force. The judgment by Judge Davis did not overturn this aspect of the June 2020 ruling he made.
”We have now put the minister on terms,” says De Beer
“She has five days to amend the regulations to comply with the court ruling of June 2020 or we will bring a contempt of court application against her personally on the normal court roll, rather than as a matter of urgency.”
The LFN letter to the minister reads: “It appears as if you yourself, Minister, [are] being put on a ‘wild goose chase’ by your legal team, and especially having failed to lodge your appeal on time creating massive difficulties for you at present.”
The minister’s failure to lodge her additional appeal on time meant that many of the measures undertaken under the Disaster Regulations are no longer legally enforceable.
‘No merit’ says State Attorney
In a letter of reply to the LFN, the State Attorney says the regulations in dispute have been repealed and replaced by the minister. “There is therefore no merit to the threatened contempt application, and there are no measures to the minister to take in order to ‘comply’ with the court order.”
The State Attorney also appears to take offence at LFN’s approach to the late filing of the appeal by the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA), and says it will now ask the SCA to make a determination on the condonation application (asking permission for a late filing to be forgiven) as a matter of urgency.
De Beer says he is pleased with the outcome of the ruling by Judge Davis “as it confirmed that many of our arguments were spot on”.
However, he is disappointed with the judge’s refusal to overturn the compulsory wearing-of-masks regulation on the grounds this was needed to protect others.
“This stance is factually misplaced as the court chose to ignore several facts proving that it’s nothing but propaganda,” says De Beer.
The LFN will consider whether to formally request leave to appeal this part of the ruling in the SCA.