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Where Cele went wrong with lockdown regulations

Police Minister Bheki Cele, left, flanked by national police commissioner Khela Sitole in Cape Town at the weekend. Picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA)

Police Minister Bheki Cele, left, flanked by national police commissioner Khela Sitole in Cape Town at the weekend. Picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Mar 30, 2020

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Cape Town – The very people who could have made the army and police's task a whole lot easier during the 21-day national lockdown have been sidelined – the influencers in a specific area, the Community Policing Forums (CPFs) and community leaders.

Having the trust of their communities and the inside knowledge of how they function could have proved invaluable. 

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"If you look at the police minister’s stance with regard to, for instance, you can’t walk your dog, that does not apply to people in townships. They are out of touch with the lifestyle of people in the townships," Pastor Charles George, the Community Policing Forum chairperson in Delft, told the Cape Times on Monday.

Reports of brutality and heavy-handed enforcement, including a fatality, have surfaced after South Africans experienced the first weekend of an unprecedented lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Using Delft as an example, where police had to use a water cannon to disperse over 2 000 people on Friday, a "top-down approach" is to blame, said George.

While there were many police officers on the streets of Delft on Monday, there were even more people roaming the streets than what was the case on the first day of the lockdown – many of them of course being social grant recipients.

"The CPFs were told to stand down. We were told we are not allowed to be in the community and play an oversight role to the police during the lockdown," George said.

"We are treated as normal citizens and the whole lockdown applies to us as well. We are not allowed to be part of the lockdown. The very people who know what is happening within their community.

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"So now you have a lot of police brutality; because how do they handle it? The army is geared for a war mindset. They have been told by the president to come in as peace officers, but that’s a foreign language to them.

"It’s very challenging and murky at the moment, especially with regards to the Sassa payments. There is no clarity with regards to what people can do and what they can’t do, etcetera. 

"To lock down a township is not possible because the make-up of a township is very different from that of a suburb, where the environment allows for people to stay at home.

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"There is also a lack of understanding from the community with regards to the seriousness of this virus. The only way the police could cope on Friday was to use a water cannon to get people off the street.

"If you look at history, we survived under the apartheid government because of our street and block communities and based on the spirit of ubuntu.

"If you’re wanting people to take ownership and responsibility, then give them the power to make those decisions and incentivise them. 

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"But if it comes from a top-down approach, from the national steering committee that is handling this, then the message gets lost in translation when you are trying to enforce a certain thing and you're not exactly clued up with regards to how people are living. 

"There is a lot of visible policing all over. There are the army and law enforcement, but again if you look at Delft, which became a city overnight, it doesn’t matter how many police officers you deploy, the area is too big, people are walking all over the show. You can’t keep your finger on all of this.

"The breakout of the virus happened in a First World country and the World Health Organisation put certain procedures in place. Now there is a breakout in a Third World country and the make-up of the country is completely different to what they were sitting within China and Europe.

"How do you lock down a township? How do you lock down backyarders? How do you lock down people who don’t have access to infrastructure. 

"You can't assume everyone has access because the majority of people don’t. If you want to put out messages via social media, it’s better to empower the influencers in the community – your community leaders – then it is loud and clear.

"They have to be looking at different ways of getting the message across and how to get the community to understand the seriousness of this virus.

"God forbid if this thing breaks out in the township. We're going to have too few body bags in this country to pick up the dead. 

"They mustn’t build this perception and mentality of them versus us. I think this is the wrong stance; we are all in this together. The virus doesn’t care whether you are white, black, rich or poor, it takes you.

"There are so many people currently that don’t have a meal. Kids received their meal from school feeding schemes, but now the schools are closed. The holiday programmes of the department of community safety have been shut down.

"The reasons why are understandable, but the crux of the matter is: what is happening to those kids who would have received their meal at school or on holiday programmes."

These and other logistics seem to have fallen by the wayside, said George, lacking a comprehensive approach on how a lockout can be truly effective in South Africa.

Cape Times

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