News24.com | Edwin Cameron | To place into effect the Covid lockdown, did we wage a war on the of us of South Africa?

The trauma of both the Covid-19 illness and dying, and the securitisation and militarisation of this public health emergency, will for years be marked on our bodies and communities, writes Edwin Cameron.


Soon a sombre anniversary will drop on our nation. 

This week, it’s some distance a 365 days since 11 March 2020, when the World Health Organisation first declared Covid-19 a plague. 

On 15 March 2020, President Ramaphosa declared Covid a nationwide catastrophe. 

A couple days after our nationwide Human Rights Day, on 23 March, he announced a nation-huge lockdown – amongst the strictest wherever.  The President’s words had been well-known – for they arrangement the tone for what adopted. 

The nation, he explained on 23 April, used to be “compelled to steal aggressive coast in opposition to an invisible enemy that threatened our lives and the lives of our loved ones”.

This used to be war talk. Enemy. Aggressive coast. Threats to life. It used to be no longer engaging. Other countries, too, replied with war talk. 

So did world our bodies. The United Worldwide locations Secretary-Overall labelled the pandemic “the battle of a generation“. We had been plunged into war in opposition to a total enemy.

The President closed our borders, banned alcohol and tobacco gross sales, authorized handiest needed companies and restricted our actions below strict curfew. To place into effect all this, the government deployed extra than 70 000 South African National Defence Force (SANDF) squaddies.

Fearsome spectres

For South Africa, a heart-profits nation already closely burdened by HIV/AIDS and TB, with a precarious public health plan, the pandemic evoked fearsome spectres. What would happen to those who are living in densely-packed below-serviced townships? What of young of us for whom college meals are their day to day sustenance? And what of those with out access to housing or honest appropriate sanitation?

The pandemic positively demanded swift, decisive leadership. 

This, President Ramaphosa, a person of popular integrity, offered. Extra very a lot, in doing so, he embraced clinical expertise. In searching for to place lives, the government adopted science and world guidelines.

Here, the President refrained from the fatal mistakes President Thabo Mbeki made in the HIV/AIDS catastrophe, in aggressively questioning science and pills, at a dreadful value in lives and suffering.

But Covid plunged us into other, dreadful mistakes. 

In combating contagion, we waged a war on our of us. In the face of anguishing human wants, as an different of doctors and nurses, we deployed the police and the defense power. As a substitute of bettering social security, we created newly polished criminal legal guidelines. Below the lockdown regulations, we locked up tens of thousands. While communities pleaded for better opportunities to position bread on the table, we extinct pepper spray to disperse crowds queuing for the R350 Covid-19 grant. As a substitute of guiding our of us thru respectful example and instruction to safe and self-maintaining public health steps, we beat and brutalised them.

Phrases are by no device empty. 

They frame a notify for us, providing a memoir for us to address it. Talking about “war” and “the enemy” makes it easier to deploy the defense power, to incarcerate of us, to roll abet odd rights and infringe cherished liberties. And, presumably it makes it easier to assault and even atomize of us.

Our aloof-fragile democracy is aware of this vocabulary – it has been called to earlier wars. 

In the late 1990s the first and aloof-continuing war used to be declared, in opposition to crime and criminals. Since then, our democracy has been combating many wars – in opposition to pills and drug customers, sex workers, harmful-border migrants and illegal occupiers. Too continuously, we frame basically the most susceptible in our society as the excellent likelihood to our security, to job opportunities and to our values.

But all this war talk, all our aggressive counter-assaults, our “no longer easy on crime” insurance policies and mass incarceration possess no longer introduced us security. Despite fearsome over-commitment to deliver-authorized power and militarised policing, South Africa stays one in all basically the most violent societies on the earth.

This previous dark 365 days of Covid-19 looks to prove that now we possess got no longer learnt from our mistakes. 

Excessive density policing 

After the first shock of the pandemic, we had been vexed, even extra, by the brutality with which our security forces replied to it. As effectively as to the SANDF deployment, the South African Police Companies and products (SAPS) implemented its “excessive-density policing” capacity. 

This entails the allege of forceful policing programs to enlighten “the authority of the deliver”. As Stellenbosch College Professor Guy Lamb illustrious, this swiftly grew to change into “government’s major lockdown compliance scheme”. Authorities made a main public coverage different – to allege securitised and militarised deliver power to address a public health notify. And its value used to be to both human rights and human life.

Early in the lockdown, police imposed petty yet humiliating penalties on transgressors in Soweto – push-americaand squats. On the second day, some fired rubber bullets at a tight-packed crowd of purchasers outside a Johannesburg supermarket. 

Then, of us started getting killed. 

In Alexandra, Collins Khosa, drinking beer on his stoep, used to be brutalised to dying in his yard, by security forces apparently mad by his insolent perspective. The SANDF’s first anecdote told a disbelieving public that its squaddies had merely “pushed” and “clapped” Mr Khosa.  A belated re-examination used to be extra candid.  It revealed that the squaddies violently beat Mr Khosa. He died of blunt power trauma to his head.

Chris van Wyk’s apartheid-technology poem – In Detention – sprang to mind: 

“He fell from the ninth floor, he hanged himself, he slipped on a portion of soap whereas washing.”

Extra tragedies ensued. A rubber bullet, apparently randomly or inexpertly fired, killed 9-365 days-extinct Leo Williams interior his uncle’s dwelling.

Police beat Ntando Elias Sigasa. He died in his sleep. Petrus Miggels tried to select alcohol. He used to be overwhelmed with a hammer before being taken to the police station – he used to be returned dwelling, handiest to die on his stoep.

Police killed Sibusiso Amos. He used to be shot in entrance of his family on his veranda. Adane Emmanuel used to be killed for illegally promoting cigarettes.

Elma Robyn Montsumi, a transgender sex worker, died after the police locked her up on a fee of drug possession in the Mowbray police cells. Why used to be she no longer released on bail below the lockdown regulations? She used to be “stumbled on placing in the police cell on my own, as she used to be in a single cell”, investigators concluded. As soon as extra Van Wyk’s poignant poetry came to mind.

And no longer handiest did central government’s coercive measures trample on human rights. The Western Cape government plucked a bunch of of homeless of us from town centre and placed them in a camp at Strandfontein, that rapidly grew to change into infamous.

Well respectful obituaries are exhausting to present. Names that failed to attain media peep had been swept into our statistics. In the first few weeks of the lockdown, the Just Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) had been investigating 199 Covid-linked cases (5 deaths because police coast, 37 discharges of official firearms, 152 assaults and 5 corruption complaints).

Corruption 

All this created a outrageous distinction.  While police and navy had been deployed to discipline glum communities into submission, corruption and looting of public funds by public servants amid a public health crisis perceived to electrify tempo and power. 

The Special Investigative Unit is currently endeavor the extensive job of investigating 2 556 private maintaining tools (PPE) contracts valued at extra than R13.3 billion. These hefty taxpayer funds “disappeared” thru official malfeasance – by participants of the elite – when early in the lockdown three million of us misplaced their jobs – two million females amongst them.

Now, a 365 days later, extra than 49 993 of us possess been officially recorded as having died from Covid-19 in South Africa – but the specific toll, measured by the unusually excessive dying toll total (“extra deaths”), can even be virtually three cases increased.

The trauma of both the Covid-19 illness and dying, and the securitisation and militarisation of this public health emergency, will for years be marked on our bodies and communities. South Africa is no longer on my own.  Many countries adopted this war-cherish capacity.  The United Worldwide locations Secretary-Overall recently illustrious that “our world goes thru a plague of human rights abuses“.

How did this happen?

The pandemic has uncovered present fault lines engraved in our society; the inequalities, indignities and fears. Illness and dying from a unusual contagion intersected with present poverty, violence, femicide, mass incarceration, alcoholism and corruption.

READ | Model Gevisser: Covid-19: One 365 days on and a deepening inequality

It also highlighted a deeper notify. In tackling advanced public health elements, we mistakenly steal recourse to the blundering, blunt instrument of the criminal legislation. We coerce compliance with measures, designed to place the final public’s health, first thru brutal power – after which thru the stigma and shame which is also criminal activity’s inescapable companions.

But this used to be desperately wicked. 

The AIDS epidemic taught us profound lessons. Our response to AIDS offered a different – the harsh, misdirected criminal legislation capacity or the benevolent human rights capacity. The aged penalises marginalised communities, perpetuates stigma and difficulty and impedes schooling and transparency and security. We all understand it merely doesn’t work. The benevolent capacity dispels unwarranted stigmas and fears. It conjures up openness and locations a top rate on resourcing prevention, data and strengthen.

In AIDS, we refrained from the dreadful criminal-legislation errors many African countries and states in the USA made. We rejected unusual criminal penalties. We didn’t punish of us thru the legislation. Rather, we embraced the perception that maintaining the rights of those at likelihood of and living with HIV grants better security for all people. We embraced the perception that a plague is no longer against the law.

We learnt first-hand that a public health crisis can no longer be managed thru difficulty and coercion and stigma. What it wants is human rights protections, leadership and position fashions, obvious public messaging and schooling, social justice, compassion and empathy.

However the Covid emergency looks to possess obscured these exhausting-learnt lessons. 

Warfare on pills

When a crisis confronts us, we strive and “nip it in the bud”.  All too readily, we turn to failed solutions that listen on the symptoms and no longer the underlying causes.  We steal some distance too fascinating recourse to punishing and stigmatising thru policing and incarceration. 

Maybe basically the most outrageous example is the misbegotten “war on pills”. We continue in opposition to increasing mountains of evidence to contend with drug allege as against the law notify, when it’s some distance a social and public health notify, managed effectively thru public health schooling and interventions.

We strive and present an clarification for ourselves these problems are transient, but – as with Covid-19 – they’ll even be spherical for long.

Is that this because we lack the imagination and resolution to save plenty of and put into effect one thing varied? Or is it because “no longer easy on crime” approaches provide our flesh pressers with an excuse for no longer pondering thru and enforcing extra efficient coast?

Properly, the President introduced ahead the parole dates of 18 000-19 000 inmates sentenced for non-violent offences. However the lockdown regulations labored without prolong in opposition to this, by constructing extra criminals, triggering extra arrests, extra over-crowding in correctional centres, and further stigma in susceptible communities.

And our prisons aid as reservoirs for the spread of contagion increasing the likelihood for both those interior and the community previous.

After I visited the Johannesburg correctional centre (“Sun Metropolis”) in Might maybe maybe 2020, we had been told that observing for trial detainees had burgeoned throughout the first month of the lockdown by over 10%. On the very first day of the lockdown, 55 of us had been arrested. The total arrested for lockdown regulations contraventions has swelled to 342 000.

The save a question to for us is this: Will we aid somebody safe by treating Covid-19 as a security notify?  By clamping down on the final public with an iron fist, when what they see is reassurance, food, healthcare and safe haven?

Stalled economic system

The answer is clearly No.  Basically the most susceptible had been disproportionately hit by the stalled economic system, after which double-hit by the unusual lockdown crimes. Nor make we aid safe the of us forcibly evicted and dragged out of their homes. Nor the females who had been abused and brutalised. Nor the millions who are unable to socially distance on public transport, and who make no longer possess odd access to operating water.

This harsh truth doesn’t have an effect on me, nor others living in relative comfort and security. Most harshly affected had been those already severely littered with injustice and dispossession.

The pandemic accentuated what most South Africans experience day to day – that a custom of violence and impunity, with a protracted history, is no longer overcome merely by electing a democratic government or enacting a hovering Structure.

In these communities, squaddies and police the allege of sjamboks in Hillbrow to put into effect overnight-enacted regulations are all too paying homage to the brutality we promised would discontinue below the Structure.

Brutal measures make no longer aid security personnel safe. While enforcing unpopular lockdown regulations, thousands of hardworking police contracted Covid-19 – and a bunch of died “at a increased number than the mixed total of SAPS deaths by the palms of criminals since 2016”. 

Our institutions also suffered an absence of elemental security. The pandemic uncovered the crisis of faltering reform and waning trust.

Accumulate the SAPS. Police violence used to be pervasive throughout apartheid. The transition introduced a welcome commerce – a human rights capacity. 

Professor Lamb observes that public trust and self assurance in the police profoundly influences both legitimacy of the police and their actions. 

In democracy, the central pillar is policing by consent. 

This exists “where residents recognise the authority of the police and the coolest upright of the police to act in specific ways, and they this capacity that forfeit determined rights and freedoms (that they would most continuously revel in in the absence of recognised authority), both explicitly or implicitly, in the interests of public clarify and peace”. 

On this device, “policing by consent” bolsters police effectiveness and the rule of thumb of legislation.

Eroded trust in police

The outrageous truth is the reverse. Public trust in our police, already eroded, has drained away additional in the pandemic.

A present leer even urged that “the accountability chain in SAPS is broken“. There used to be a unusual decline in interior discipline on SAPS participants. 

Professor Muntingh of Africa Legal Justice Reform (ACJR) stumbled on that even when disciplinary coast is taken, there is a 44% likelihood of no longer being held to yarn.

Lockdown corruption dragged nationwide trust down even additional.

And the blame doesn’t lie with entrance line particular person police personnel. Obligation lies with leadership, interior the police and nationally. This previous, unnerving 365 days, has performed our aloof-nascent democracy no honest appropriate. Our Structure and Invoice of Rights promised freedom, equality and human dignity. However the pandemic glaringly uncovered our glum apply-thru.

The pandemic offered no warrant to droop the rule of thumb of legislation, or for a moratorium on rights.

Lockdown measures, alongside side physical-distancing, quarantining, masks and hygiene and schooling campaigns had unusual strengthen and acquiescence. But exhausting-core coercive measures at a cost to human rights and dignity and human life exacted a excessive toll, particularly amongst the susceptible.

Vaccine rollout 

At this first anniversary, virtually coincident with Human Rights Day, equitable and efficient vaccine distribution supply hope. The 1960 Sharpeville massacre anniversary invites us to renew commitment to human rights and to nurturing public health by measures healthy to the final public – no longer by bullying coercion and brutality.

The pandemic is long no longer yet performed with us. If we make no longer be taught its lessons, deadlier waves can even engulf us. 

Powerful better is the promise embedded in our Structure – that we encompass unusual and better ways of sharing our society’s energies and opportunities and sources. That implies gives security and prosperity.

–  Justice Edwin Cameron is the Inspecting Engage of the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Companies and products (JICS).


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