To Save Lives: The Ethical Precedent set by South Africa’s Leadership during Lockdown


  • David Anthony Pittaway Nelson Mandela University



precautionary principle; prevention; Covid-19 lockdowns; consistency; pandemic


None of the lockdown decisions made by governments in response to the Covid-19 pandemic can be considered to be self-evident outcomes of objective data. Executive members of each nation’s government considered the particular pandemic circumstances that they deemed to be important and relevant, and decisions were made based on limited epidemiological data in combination with a variety of contingent socio-political and economic variables. These kinds of decisions fall partly into the philosophical category of ethics, and they can be summarised under the umbrella question: What should we do? The precautionary principle must have played a large role in the decision-making process, considering the conspicuous lack of reliable data on which to base decisions. In this article, I turn to South Africa as a case study, and I tease out some of the precautionary factors that may have, in part, driven many major decisions prior to and during the South African lockdown. I argue that if the precautionary principle can be used as part of the justification for large-scale government interventions to save an unknown number of lives, then consistent use of the principle should warrant concerted responses by government to a variety of potential threats and problems in South Africa. I also argue that for government’s focus on saving lives to be consistent, preventative action in response to phenomena that take worryingly large numbers of lives annually, is necessary.


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Author Biography

David Anthony Pittaway, Nelson Mandela University

Post Doctoral Fellow for SARChI Chair in Identities and Social Cohesion in Africa, Nelson Mandela University




How to Cite

Pittaway, David Anthony. 2021. “To Save Lives: The Ethical Precedent Set by South Africa’s Leadership During Lockdown”. Phronimon 21 (February):19 pages .



Themed Section 1
Received 2020-09-17
Accepted 2020-12-04
Published 2021-02-17