The conduct of police and the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) in the first four days of the national Covid-19 lockdown has come into sharp focus with three deaths, allegedly at the hands of law enforcement officers, and claims of abuse, heavy-handed policing and the use of excessive force.
The lockdown started on Friday, in a bid to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19).
President Cyril Ramaphosa has activated the deployment of the SANDF to assist police in ensuring residents stay indoors, except to buy food and medication or to get medical attention.
Only people who work for businesses deemed to render essential services may leave home to go to work.
Footage of soldiers and police officers beating people or forcing them to perform strenuous exercises has been widely circulated on social media.
3 Covid-19 deaths, 3 police killings
While three Covid-19 deaths have now been confirmed, the same number of people have died after alleged interactions with a metro police officer and at least two police officers since Friday.
One person died in Gauteng, while two were killed in the Western Cape, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) said in a statement on Monday.
In the first incident, a Vosloorus man was gunned down in his home after allegedly being followed by police.
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Officers had noticed people drinking liquor in a tavern and tried to make arrests. However, they were allegedly attacked by residents and discharged rubber bullets.
The man’s children, aged four and 11, were also injured in the shooting.
Two people have since been arrested on charges of murder and attempted murder.
In the second incident, a man was allegedly beaten with a hammer and tasered by police in Cape Town after being caught on a beer run.
IPID didn’t give details about the second death in the Western Cape.
Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula condemned these incidents and called on the SANDF to desist from using excessive force against citizens.
Police spokesperson Vish Naidoo said while the videos needed to be verified, the security forces’ behaviour was unacceptable.
“We have impressed upon our members on the ground to act within the confines of the law when enforcing the Disaster Management Act Regulations,” Naidoo said.
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“The regulations clearly outlines the actions security forces may enforce/impose on alleged transgressors. The depiction in the circulating videos is definitely not one of those actions.”
The Military Ombudsman’s office told News24 it had received complaints via social media about the conduct of SANDF members, while the DA had also written to the office to investigate these actions.
While addressing the nation on Monday evening, Ramaphosa said the role of law enforcement agencies was to “support, reassure and comfort our people”.
“They know that they must act within the law at all times and that they must not cause harm to any of our people,” the president said.
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