National State of Disaster VS State of Emergency

National State of Disaster VS State of Emergency

During this first week of lockdown, most of us have learnt many new things we’ve probably never heard of before. To me, the terms “national disaster and national emergency” were new, and their applicability seemed exactly the same. Both were equally terrifying to me.

However, in terms of our Constitution, the definition, enforcement and rights upheld within each of these, differs quite significantly. The one being more extreme than the other.

Let’s look at a very brief summary:


  • Natural or human-caused occurrence that causes disease, damage to property infrastructure or the environment or disruption of the life of a community”.
  • The national executive is “primarily responsible” for co-ordinating measures for recovery from disaster.
  • Cabinet ministers may use existing legislation to deal with the disaster.
  • Issuing of regulations allowed that not only provide relief to affected persons, but also for the control in the affected areas of the movement of people and goods, the provision, use or control of emergency accommodation and the sale of alcohol.
  • Disaster Management Act releases money and resources from vehicles to emergency personnel to deal with a declared disaster.
  • Lasts three months. May cut it short at any time and may be extended 1 month at a time.


Section 37 of the Constitution allows a State of Emergency to be declared only when:

  • “the life of the nation is threatened by war, invasion, general insurrection, disorder, natural disaster or other public emergency; and the declaration is necessary to restore peace and order.”
  • May last 21 days unless Parliament extends it (maximum of three months).
  • The State of Emergency Act provides a crucial supervisory role for Parliament.
  • Courts empowered to decide whether a State of Emergency/regulations are valid.
  • Parliament prohibited from passing laws “indemnifying the state, or person, in respect of any unlawful act”.
  • These Emergency regulations allow soldiers, police to order anyone to leave a place if they believe it’s for the good of public safety.

We are currently “only” (yes, apparently it could be worse), in a National State of Disaster. Therefore, let’s do our part, self-isolate and endeavour to avoid entering into a State of Emergency.

Happy “Self-Isolation Saturday”!


By Alet Smit I Attorney & Group Marketing Head

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