On 15 May 2020, SERI's Thato Masiangoako participated in a virtual RAITH Brown Bag Session co-presented with Adele Kirsten of Gun Free South Africa. The presentation unpacked the over-reliance on heavy-handed measures to enforce the lockdown regulations by members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), South African Police Service (SAPS), Metro police, private security, and other law enforcement.
In the presentation, Masiangoako and Kirsten discussed specific reported incidents of excessive use of force, the misuse of weapons, and the nature of abuses as well as the impact that this nature of policing may have on community-police relations and how the work of civil society may be shaped by this period going forward.
Masiangoako began by providing an overview of South Africa's COVID-19 timeline since its first confirmed COVID-19 case on 5 March 2020 and President Cyril Ramaphosa's declaration of a national State of Disaster on 15 March 2020. The President announced that the SANDF would be deployed in support of the SAPS in implementing the lockdown regulations and directions issued in terms of the Disaster Management Act, 2002. In his address, the President said:
“I expect you, as you implement this 21-day lockdown, to do so with compassion. To do so with great understanding. To do so with respect for the people of our country. To do so with humility as well,” Ramaphosa said, in an address to police officers on Thursday...This is not a skop (kick) and donder (assault) moment. This is not a skiet (shoot) and donder (assault) moment. This is a moment where we save lives.”
Kirsten argued that the allegations of abuses witnessed during the lockdown and the misuse of weapons by the police is not a phenomenon in South Africa and that it "echoes both the recent past such as the policing of community protests and the #FMF protests as well as being reminiscent of policing in the apartheid-era during the State of Emergency in the ’80s." She went on to argue that the spike in reported and witnessed abuses during the lockdown reflect a manifestation of the existing problems within the police. She noted, however, that was new about the current abuses has been the use of unlawful equipment such as sjamboks, tasers, and hammers.
Dr Mary Rayner contributed to the discussion by highlighting some of the striking similarities in the injuries sustained from abuses reported during the lockdown and some of the injuries sustained during the #FeesMustFall protests, documented in the Double Harm report.
Masiangoako discussed the impact of the government taking a militarised and securitised approach to was is a public health emergency presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. She also discussed the Khosa case that came before the High Court as an example of some of the abuses witnessed. She further discussed some of the remedies that were sought by the family and why the lack of the code of conduct, as required by Section 19(3)(c) may have contributed to the abuses and lack of consistency in the implementation of the lockdown regulations.
RAITH Brown Bag Sessions are informative presentations and facilitated discussions hosted by the RAITH Foundation.