It's important to hold state accountable for wrongdoing

Mbuyiselo Botha Gender Imbizo
President Cyril Ramaphosa with minister of human settlements, water and sanitation Lindiwe Sisulu. Ramaphosa announced a national lockdown late last month in an effort to curb the spread of deadly coronavirus./gcis
President Cyril Ramaphosa with minister of human settlements, water and sanitation Lindiwe Sisulu. Ramaphosa announced a national lockdown late last month in an effort to curb the spread of deadly coronavirus./gcis

Our country has handled the Covid-19 pandemic exceedingly better than countries far ahead of us in terms of access to resources and development.

I commend and applaud President Cyril Ramaphosa and minister of health Dr Zweli Mkhize and the countless workers who are working tirelessly to offer essential services and are devoted to ensuring that our country is able to effectively fight this pandemic, but as human rights and social justice activist Mark Heywood says, the lauding of our government's response to this crisis should not suspend critiquing the government-led response and not stop us from asking pertinent questions.

In essence, we must not surrender our hard-won democratic right to demand answers from our government.

I agree with Heywood. The lauding of our government while keeping them accountable goes a long way in ensuring that their response to the crisis is even more effective and enhanced.

By keeping quiet, we are doing an injustice to ourselves as a society who has to live with the possible consequences of an ineffective response to this crisis and it's an injustice to our country possibly having one of the leading and most holistic approaches to this worldwide crisis.

An optimal approach can only be achieved when civil society engages and keeps our government accountable. Often, crisis within our country has been brought to the fore by civil society organisations and they have tendered solutions.

Our civil duty to keep government accountable is utterly important.

The reckless utterances of South African National Defence Force (SANDF) chief, Gen Solly Shoke, is just one of the many instances where South Africans should be seeking answers and accountability from the state.

Last week, after briefing a contingent of soldiers in Pretoria, more than a week after the SANDF had been deployed to help enforce the national lockdown regulations, Shoke said, "there are some who speak about human rights... but human life is more important than any individual human rights".

No, Gen Shoke, individual human rights and human life are not mutually exclusive. We cannot claim to protect human life for "the greater good" whilst negating individual human rights. Since the start of the lockdown, the soldiers you have deployed have been seen infringing on the human rights of civilians, even when civilians are not flouting regulations.

The number of people killed allegedly by the police and soldiers, for allegedly violating the national lockdown announced by Ramaphosa currently stands at nine deaths.

There isn't any offence that justifies the death of individuals. There is a plethora of ways to deal with those not abiding with the law.

The statements of the general are irresponsible, especially on the background of the gross violation of human rights we have witnessed by the soldiers.

Their behaviour hasn't been a positive advertisement for the respecting of human life as you put it. And to an extent, his statement says there are instances where soldiers are justified in not exercising restraint.

There are legal avenues that have been made available for the handling of individuals who are flouting the lockdown regulations.

The avenues do not include making people exercise, brutally beating or killing them.

This should not be occurring in a democratic country that values the sanctity of human rights. The defence force personnel should not be a law unto themselves.

We have increasingly seen the SANDF going into communities that have civilians.

The understanding of human rights and how to intervene where there are civilians is paramount and takes nothing away from their ability to respond in war situations that need the required force.

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