South Africans Complain of Vicious Attacks From Law Enforcement Officers Amid COVID-19 Lockdown

By Nefeteria Brewster

South African law enforcement officers are under scrutiny after videos of them assaulting citizens went viral following a call for the country to lock down due to the coronavirus.

Since South Africa went into a 21-day lockdown Thursday, March 26, there have been complaints, including over security forces firing rubber bullets at grocery shoppers as a way to warn them to stay a certain distance apart. As part of measures to help stop the spread of the virus, the country issued stay-at-home orders.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa called for the order after the country saw more than 1,100 cases and two deaths last week. As of early morning Wednesday, April 1, there were 1,326 cases — reportedly more than any country in Africa — and three deaths. South Africa has had a bit of relief in witnessing 31 recoveries.

Under the order, South Africans are required to stay indoors for three weeks. Exemptions of the order allow citizens to seek medical care or buy essential items such as food. The penalty for those who don’t adhere to the order includes paying a fine, prosecution or both.

A series of videos showing law enforcement physically assaulting Black South Africans they’ve located on the street — and, as some have claimed, even in their homes — since have surfaced on social media platforms.

Many showed officers punching, kicking and using their batons to viciously beat residents.

One video shows an officer holding a citizen in a headlock as an object is pried from his hand. One officer then points his gun at the citizen before being pushed away.

Another incident sparking a debate shows an officer kicking a resident to the ground in what appears to be his own front yard.

A similar incident on Sunday led to the death of a man, identified as Sibusiso Amos, after police were allegedly enforcing restrictions of the lockdown in Vosloorus, Johannesburg. Four children who were caught in the crossfire of the altercation were also hospitalized.

In the city of Ekurhuleni, a metro police officer and a security guard were arrested for murder and attempted murder following the death of Amos, who was 40, Sowtan Live reported.

Officials reportedly said 55 people were arrested in Alexandra township in northern Johannesburg Friday, according to Sowtan Live.

“These are people who don’t have a good will, people who are doing exactly what they were told not to do,” Bheki Cele, minister of police, said to The Guardian.

“We are staying at home now. Before we were going to the shops, but the soldiers are beating people so everyone is inside now,” Emily Ndemande, a domestic worker who lives in Alexandra, told the newspaper.

Sontaga Seisa, with the Independent Police Investigative Directorat, told Eyewitness News that residents could contact the agency if they felt that they had been violated.

“People don’t need to know who the exact police official is because this is the time that police officials have been deployed all over the country, not necessarily confined to their policing precinct,” he said. “If they feel that they have been assaulted, then such an assault needs to be reported to the police or Ipid, then let them do so.”

The videos pushed some South African celebrities to plead with law enforcement, and call for leaders to address the issue.

South African musician Thandiswa Mazwai took to Twitter asking for Bheki Cele, the minister of police, to handle the lockdown with dignity.

“Please, Bheki Cele, it is important to be clear that the army and police are called on to protect civilians and enforce the shutdown with dignity,” she tweeted on March 26. “We have momentarily let go of our rights but only allowed their suspension for the greater good!”

Author Lesego Tlhabi expressed having an understanding of the need for the lockdown, but not being in agreement with an aggressive nature of law enforcement.

“I understand the need for lockdown squad to enforce rules but here they’re not even asking if people are going to the shops or whatever is allowed,” she tweeted Monday. “And the level of aggression is violent & unnecessary. Felt like I was watching a ‘76 clip. They dont have the same energy in Sandton.”

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