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Police and military abuses raise concerns amid lockdown defiance

In the early days of lockdown in South Africa, police and military heavy-handedness has raised concerns that authorities are abusing their mandates to keep people in their homes. 

After a weekend that saw various incidents make their way onto social media, the issue became front-of-mind after Sibusiso Amos was fatally shot on the veranda of his Vosloorus home on Sunday. An Ekurhuleni metro police department officer and a man who is thought to be a security guard were arrested on Monday morning after public outrage at the incident.

According to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid), officers were on patrol when they noticed patrons drinking inside a tavern. After attempting to make an arrest, they were reportedly attacked and proceeded to retaliate with rubber bullets. Amos was then allegedly followed to his home, where he was shot. Four children, aged between five and 11 years, were caught in the crossfire and subsequently taken to hospital, Ipid says.

Since the 21-day lockdown commenced on Friday, various reports of this nature have begun to emerge. On the very first day, a video circulated of a soldier smashing a bottle on the floor, before his balaclava-clad colleague began assaulting a civilian. “You’re saying the president is talking shit? Fuck off,” he could clearly be heard saying.

Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula on Monday condemned the alleged use of excessive force on civilians by South African National Defence Force (SANDF) personnel. She called on the SANDF chief to pay close attention to the situation on the ground to ensure that those soldiers who abuse their authority are dealt with.

The past few days have also seen intermittent clashes between police and residents of Hillbrow, some of whom have not adhered to the lockdown edict. 

More than 1 000 people have been arrested for not complying with lockdown regulations, Police Minister Bheki Cele said on Monday. 

“We will continue to nudge them towards compliance,” he said, according to TimesLive. “We will push them when the need comes. The regulations that are there must be respected.”

Yet, as has become clear, the police and military response has also victimised people who have not violated the lockdown at all. Two commuters, for instance, told the M&G how they were shot by rubber bullets, seemingly for no reason. Another video showed police using a water cannon to disperse a group waiting outside a shop in Delft, Cape Town. Various reports have also emerged across the country of police threatening homeless people, many of whom do not know where to go. 

The actions of the military and police appear to be in contrast to the call from President Cyril Ramaphosa for them to be a force of kindness in these trying times. 

“You are required to support our police, work with them, walk among our people and defend them against this virus,” Ramaphosa said when he announced the deployment of the military. “You are required to do this in the most understanding way, in the most respectful way, in the most supportive way.” 

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Luke Feltham

Luke Feltham runs the Mail & Guardian's sports desk. He was previously the online day editor.

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