SA's poor fear coronavirus lockdown will make them easy prey for criminals

By Kim Harrisberg Time of article published Mar 27, 2020

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Johannesburg - As

South Africa starts a 21-day national lockdown to

stem the coronavirus outbreak, poorer residents fear being

exposed to worsening violence and scams as security companies

jack up patrols in wealthier neighbourhoods.

A spike in coronavirus scams like fake door-to-door tests to

break into people's homes could leave residents in townships

particularly vulnerable to crime and violence, rights activists

warned.

"All South Africans are vulnerable to crime, but those with

resources will be able to protect themselves in this uncertain

time more than those in townships," said Thami Nkosi of the

local Right2Know group, which fights for freedom of expression.

South Africa is considered one of the most unequal countries

in the world, according to the World Bank, and the impact of

years of apartheid spatial planning that set to physically

divide the country's different races lingers on today.

Inequality in cities could be further exacerbated by a rise

in coronavirus scams, supermarket robberies and domestic

violence during lockdowns, with the central bank warning that

criminals are visiting homes to collect "contaminated" money.

The first few hours after the lockdown in the Joburg CBD and surrounding areas saw a team of SAPS, Metro Police and military staff patrol the streets and sending people home. Picture: Timothy Bernard/African News Agency (ANA)

"We issued a warning (for door-to-door coronavirus scams)

over social media that went viral, with others around the

country sharing similar stories," said Ozanne Mac Adam, a

coordinator for private security company TRSS Reaction.

South Africa has reported the most coronavirus cases in

sub-Saharan Africa - now over 1 000 - and public health experts

are worried that the virus could overwhelm the health system if

infection rates rise steeply.

"Communities are alarmed and nervous about the virus, but

also about criminals taking advantage of the situation," Mac

Adam told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview.

"Our clients in residential estates and shopping centres

have asked for more patrols and security presence."

Barbed wire, electric fences and panic buttons are a part of

everyday life in a country with more than 20 000 murders a year

- the world's fifth highest murder rate in 2019, according to

the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

KZN Premier Sihle Zikalala visited the community of Cato Crest ahead of the 21-day national lockdown to raise awareness about Covid-19. Picture: Motswari Mofokeng/African News Agency (ANA)

Some fear that the country's lockdown,, which started at midnight on Thursday, could put women and girls at greater danger of

domestic violence.

"We have extremely high crime rates in Alex," said Ramatamo

Sehoai, a journalist living in the Alexandra township of about

750 000 people.

"A lockdown in a township, where maybe 10 people share one

shack, will increase violence against women and others," he said

in a phone interview.

Police Minister Bheki Cele told reporters on Wednesday that

the South African National Defence Force would be increasing

foot patrols, roadbloacks and vehicle checkpoints.

Noting the fear of escalating violence against women, he

said there are plans to "beef up" family violence and child

protection units.

For Sehoai, the lockdown will limit movement and income for

informal workers in townships, but the heightened police and

military presence is "as close to private security as we can

get".

"Perhaps the military will help us fight the virus and crime

too," he said. "I just hope that when we leave our shacks to get

food, we aren't seen as loiterers or criminals."

REUTERS

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