Media release: We remember Collins Khosa and all the other victims of lockdown enforcement - Free Market Foundation
South African constitutional democracy, with its hard-won civil liberties, has been battered during the last year as the government implemented lockdowns and restrictions to combat COVID-19. The Free Market Foundation (FMF) pays tribute to the citizens who have lost their lives due to the restrictions on economic activity and police brutality, and reminds South Africans to always be vigilant regarding any possible infractions on their liberties by the state.
On 10 April 2020, this week one year ago, Collins Khosa died in Alexandra township. He died after soldiers of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) entered his home and beat him with a rifle after seeing a cup of what they said was alcohol on his property – at that time the sale of alcohol was banned, as part of the government's lockdown.
In August 2020, defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula told Parliament that the military ombud, Lieutenant-General (Ret) Vusumuzi Masondo, recommended that appropriate disciplinary measures be taken against the commander of the platoon who was on the ground, and against those who were with the commander, during the killing of Mr Khosa. The soldiers were found to have acted improperly, irregularly, and in contravention of their code of conduct.
The lockdown has by no means been the only period in democratic South Africa's history that police brutality has occurred. According to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), more than 42,000 complaints were made about the police between 2012 and 2019 – complaints including rape, killings, and torture. Some lives are ultimately treated as expendable.
Speaking at a webinar of University of University of KwaZulu-Natal academics in August 2020, Professor Sadhana Manik said, "The lockdown has created further opportunities for police violence to manifest itself in communities. The pandemic created a space for the police to flex their muscles, targeting vulnerable communities."
In June 2020, police minister Bheki Cele told Parliament that 49 cases of police brutality had been reported since lockdown began – and one can only imagine how many cases had gone unreported, either for fear of retribution by the police, or a fundamental lack of faith that the police will take seriously such cases perpetrated by their fellow service members.
South Africa's township areas are high-density spaces. Along with being forced into tiny 'homes,' and due to lockdown restrictions being unable to either work from home or travel to their places of work due, citizens who live in townships also bore the brunt of police- and Army-occupation and brutality.
FMF Deputy Director Chris Hattingh said, "Conversations around the breakdown of the rule of law and corruption usually centre on high profile politicians and state capture. But the 'kid-gloves' treatment of some officials implicated in allegations of state capture indicates that some citizens are 'more equal' than others." He continued, "This manifests further downstream in the mistreatment, abuse, and killing of citizens who are fundamentally not viewed as deserving of equal respect and treatment under the law."
COVID-19 has provided an excuse for governments around the world to play out their authoritarian desires; nowhere more than in South Africa are we once again reminded of the brutality that an ever-growing, rights-ignoring government is capable of administering.
Citizens' rights and liberties are most under threat when a government believes it is acting in the 'best interests' of the people. The proper function of government – rightly conceived, understood, and implemented – is to protect the lives and property of the people who elect it to govern.
Martin van Staden, FMF Executive Committee member, added, "By asking the police to implement such extremely debatable policy decisions such as lockdown, we risk destroying any remaining faith that South Africans have left in the institution. When people are being arrested for sitting quietly on the beach, or having to sneak around cities to avoid police roadblocks after the curfew has started, we risk a crisis of confidence, and thus lawlessness. Restore the police to their core mandate; protecting lives and property."
As South Africa continues to navigate COVID-19 – and the targets the government is using by which it will measure 'success' or 'failure' and finally end the state of disaster and lockdown are still not provided to the public – the FMF will continue in its work to fight for citizens' civil liberties, which we have now after centuries of struggle, and which are always in danger of being trampled upon by the state. The thoughts of all the staff and associates of the FMF remain with the friends and families of all those who have lost loved ones to overzealous enforcement of errant government policy decisions.
Publish date: 09 April 2021
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The views expressed in the article are the author’s and are not necessarily shared by the members of the Foundation. This article may be republished without prior consent but with acknowledgement to the author.