No to a militarised lockdown! Yes to a humanitarian and public health approach!
Statement on behalf of South African community-based organisations, social justice movements, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), civic organisations, academics, students, trade unions, organisations of informal workers, faith-based organisations and foreign nationals from other African countries.
The COVID-19 pandemic presents an unprecedented public health threat to South Africa. The C19 People’s Coalition acknowledges the South African government’s efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus. We are encouraged by some of the work that is being done by our security forces and to serve the public at this time. However, we are deeply concerned about the abuses that we have seen. We call on the government to adopt a more compassionate, public health and humanitarian focused approach to the work of security forces during the lockdown.
In the first week of the lockdown we have recorded cases of assault, degrading physical punishments, allegations of corruption and deaths as a result of police conduct. We are aware that these are currently being investigated by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID). We caution against prioritising security concerns that are not directly related to the core public health mandate of curbing the spread of COVID‑19.
The unlawful and excessive use of force, particularly in poor communities, violates international and domestic principles: namely that the use of force must be:
2) Proportionate to the threat posed;
The application of Section 36 of the Constitution to limit certain rights and freedoms during the national state of disaster does not equate to a wholesale suspension of constitutional imperatives or the rule of law. All restrictions and prohibitions that relate to the excessive use of force by law enforcement still apply during a state of disaster. As such, the excessive use of force by security forces is unlawful. We also reject any suggestions that the State should escalate the declared state of disaster to a state of emergency.
The implementation of the lockdown regulations by the South African Police Services (SAPS), South African National Defence Force (SANDF), metropolitan police services and private security forces must have clear channels of accountability communicated to the public. The SANDF and SAPS also have a duty to report any abuses that they witness in line with their respective structures and protocols.
We call upon President Cyril Ramaphosa, Minister of Police Bheki Cele, Minister of Defence Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and the Coronavirus National Command Council to urgently:
– Publicly and consistently repudiate the unlawful use of force by security forces in enforcing the lockdown;
– Actively engage civil society and community-based organisations for a collaborative and unified implementation of lockdown regulations; and
– Strengthen oversight mechanisms such as IPID and the Military Ombud and support monitoring efforts for transparency and accountability throughout the duration of the lockdown.
We call for a shift in the approach during the lockdown to one that is primarily humanitarian. This includes, but is not limited to, using the security forces to:
– Assist in the construction and building of temporary medical and other facilities that are required in fighting COVID-19;
– Assist with improving access to water and sanitation services to communities through their distribution and installation where necessary ; and
– Supporting the delivery and dissemination of information and essential resources including food, water, soap, hand sanitisers, medical and other supplies.
There are significant risks attached to the current militarised enforcement approach. An immediate shift towards a more compassionate posture in implementation will:
– Mitigate against already escalating tensions with communities, especially as vulnerable communities struggle to meet their basic needs;
– Support the public health imperative of encouraging the public to stay at home to minimise the spread of coronavirus; and
– Foster mutual trust between the public and security forces.
We support a humanitarian mission to “save lives”, and not a militarised enforcement that will lead to further abuses of members of the public and the unnecessary loss of life. South Africa cannot afford another Marikana. We demand a just response to COVID-19 and believe that rifles are not necessary to achieve this!
For further media comment, contact representatives of the Anti-Repression working group of the Coalition:
Zelda Holtzmann 082 466 0007
Ghalib Galant 084 959 1912
Read the C19 People’s Coalition’s Programme of Action here. The list of organisations that have endorsed the Programme of Action is available here.