COVID-19: Threats of fines, jail terms not the way to go – expert

“When you start threatening people with criminal records for them to comply with regulations it simply means you have not communicated your policies well," says a political analyst.

Constant persuasion through education programmes is the way to go towards ensuring people complied with Covid-19 lockdown regulations, instead of “by strengthening the arm of state security forces or threatening people with fines and legal prosecutions,” political analyst Ralph Mathekga has said.

This comes after the government introduced new Covid-19 lockdown regulations of a fine or six-month jail time penalty, or both, for any employer, manager or owner of a building used by the public, failing to ensure any person in their premises wore a mask.

The government also indicated that this was the initial step in legal repercussions for not wearing a mask and could escalate to individuals being fined if people failed to comply.

However, justice minister Ronald Lamola said the government had not reached that stage yet.

Pretoria East Rekord reports that Mathekga slated this move, saying although it was important for business owners and individuals to ensure that people wore masks, threatening citizens with criminal records would not encourage the public to comply.

“When you start threatening people with criminal records for them to comply with regulations it simply means you have not communicated your policies well. The very idea that you can police compliance through jail time, is wrong.

“Successful policies are usually implemented through persuasion and constant communication – doing radio education programmes and taking peace action instead of force,” he said.

“Putting boots on people’s necks to comply failed during the hard lockdown and it will not work now.”

Mathekga said South Africa had a culture of not complying with policies when force was used to ensure compliance.

“One instance of this would be the apartheid government that had a harsh hand when implementing their policies and it did not work.

“The irony is that many like to say the ANC leaders were in exile and did not know what was going on in the country. Because if you were here then you would have known that you cannot lock people down and threaten them with the army. It will not work.”

Mathekga said that regulations were not conditions under which people normally existed and in the context of South Africa, it forked up many social issues.

This he attributed to the rising levels in gender-based violence acts and poverty.

“The lockdown has revealed the depth of the inequalities that exist in our country. It has revealed the extent to which others can survive and others cannot,” he said.

“On the gender-based violence issue, with many women confined in their homes with abusive partners, the lockdown magnified the issue. Any society that went into lockdown with outstanding problems, such as poverty, GBV… those problems just magnified and got bigger and bigger to crises which is what we are seeing.”

Following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s address on Sunday, police minister Bheki Cele announced on Wednesday, that under the reinstated level 3 lockdown, his department would increase police visibility, roadblocks and patrols where applicable, in streets, malls and other areas where people “ignore social distancing protocols”.

“There will also be random stop-and-search operations to ensure that the prohibition on the trade of alcohol and tobacco is not being subverted,” he said.

Cele said the measures were not designed to “limit” the freedoms of ordinary people but implemented to prevent the spread of the virus.

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