Member of SANDF directs public during Covid-19 lockdown in South Africa

Submission from the Civil Society Peace Team on the deployment of the SANDF and SAPS in efforts to manage an effective lockdown to protect citizens from a potential COVID-19 catastrophe

Statement crafted for the President’s Consultative Meeting of 17 April 2020 with the assistance of the Khulumani Support Group

We understand the decision of the President to deploy members of the South African Police Services (SAPS) along with members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to ensure compliance of citizens with the measures enacted to give effect to the decision to enforce a “lockdown” in terms of the National Disaster Management Act and the regulations promulgated in terms of the Act for the special circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We are advocating for the professional management of the lockdown by the deployed security agents so that it serves to restore trust in these components of the state’s security agencies by ensuring the provisions are enforced with restraint and with public education about their necessity along with specific messaging about the unacceptability of intimate partner violence.  

We are concerned about the use of soldiers to perform policing functions in South Africa. We believe their appropriate role is in providing humanitarian support such as building temporary hospitals, providing medical assistance, organising logistics, ensuring people have access to food and water, and ensuring that people at the frontline are equipped with protective gear.

We regret that there have been reports of both SAPS and SANDF members assaulting people, subjecting them to humiliating physical punishment, indiscriminately firing rubber bullets at people on the streets and using violence and abuse in dealing with often minor infractions of the regulations. These unwarranted actions have led to complaints to both IPID and to the Military Ombudsman.

We regret reports of the unnecessary and confrontational use of undue force by both police officers and soldiers who have been seen to effect arrests without even inquiring if the people on the streets were allowed to be outdoors due to being involved in providing essential services. The unbridled use of force by security agents is likely to result in people defiantly disrespecting the rule of law. A further concern has been reports of armed private security guards being involved in enforcing the regulations

We understand that the conditions of the lockdown limit certain human rights – the rights to freedom of movement, to freedom of assembly, to freedom of association, as well as freedom to peacefully demonstrate and to picket. But we are equally aware that that the rights of all people to bodily and psychological integrity and respect for their dignity remain inalienable rights of all people despite the lockdown.

For many people in townships and informal settlements, the presence of police and the army is triggering of memories of the heavy-handed approach of apartheid security forces. In these circumstances effective accountability measures are crucial and should include oversight visits by members of Parliament’s policing and defence committees.  

We believe that this time of lockdown could serve to restore trust in the institutions of the police and the defence force if their actions are perceived as fair and legitimate.

Finally, we confirm our commitment to the training of community leaders organised to provide mediation and peace building services to prevent violent conflict as proposed in the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security which is yet to be adopted by government as a blueprint for delivering safety and security for all people.  That plan also provides for the building and strengthening of a Community Safety Volunteer Programme and the inculcation of the norm and value of protecting each other and the provision of support for whistle blowers.

We hope that the experiences of this lockdown will give impetus to the adoption and implementation of our country’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.

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