Insensitive policing not needed

FILE IMAGE: Soldiers and police on Friday embarked on a lockdown enforcement operation in Alexandra.
FILE IMAGE: Soldiers and police on Friday embarked on a lockdown enforcement operation in Alexandra.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi / The Sunday Times

Yesterday morning a video emerged on social media showing SANDF members and police officers patrolling the streets of Khayelitsha in Cape Town. They came across a family sitting outside their house in their enclosed yard.

The officers instructed them to go into the house. A woman stood up to question the fairness of the instruction, considering that they were on their property in line with lockdown regulations as they understood them.

Determined, the officers ordered them categorically to go inside. Fearing what might happen, one of the men in the yard jumped to persuade the woman to go inside.

The video raises several questions. At best it demonstrates the gap that sometimes exists between citizens and law enforcement personnel in understanding the extent and detail of the lockdown regulations.

At worst it demonstrates what appears to be an abuse of power by law enforcement personnel.

The latter perception will also be fuelled by footage from other parts of the country showing soldiers assaulting citizens they believed were breaking the law.

Let's be clear. Citizens have a legal and moral duty to abide by the 21-day lockdown rules if we are to have any chance of beating this Covid-19 pandemic.

When we do not abide by the rules, authorities are empowered to arrest and detain transgressors.

They are also empowered to use appropriate levels of force when met with resistance.

However, in some of the incidents seen on social media, the force used by soldiers when dispersing people cannot - based on what can be seen - be justified.

In these cases the conduct of officers must be investigated and those found to have abused their power must be held accountable.

Furthermore, the extent of permitted movements of people, especially in the confines of their private property, must be clarified so as to be understood by both citizens and law enforcement officers. These regulations, though strict, must be seen to be exercised fairly and not in a draconian manner reminiscent of our past.

Now, more than ever, it is important for the government to ensure that the legitimacy and power of our law enforcement officers is not undermined by the few who abuse it.