Lockdown mania: free criminals, arrest tots and gogos

Traffic cops arresting a hysterical four-year-old. Can there be any more damning indictment of the current lockdown? Actually yes, two big SAPS officers manhandling a tiny gogo into a van for having the temerity to sell home-made atchar.

We are living through perhaps the biggest – and longest – period of restrictions in the country’s history. The demands placed on South Africans, as President Cyril Ramaphosa has noted, have been onerous, but generally they have been complied with by a public who understood the need for them.

On Wednesday night he acknowledged this again, effectively apologising for the confusion, the mixed messages and the overzealous officialdom – before keeping us locked down on Level 4 until the end of the month.

There’s much to apologise for: the fabric of our society is starting to tear; food parcels have gone missing depriving thousands of people of the only food they can get. Grants have been haphazardly issued, compounding the suffering for those who didn’t get. Savings, for those who have, are becoming seriously depleted.

The policing has become arbitrary and petty; admission of guilt fines and arrests for offences which aren’t designated as such, while contraband cigarettes are freely hawked on street corners despite legislation unequivocally banning trade in tobacco. Other crimes are going either unreported or undetected as the police minister jackboots about issuing Orwellian edicts that often appear to have more to do with social aggrandisement than social distancing.

Last weekend’s video shot in Ballito will do little to offset that narrative. Once again, the threadbare defence has been to call for the context behind the arrest. There can never be a context to arrest a child? Arrest the father, that’s the right thing to do – which ultimately happened. What context did we need for the gogo? Especially since the ridiculous regulations were amended only days later in any case.

Let’s talk about the context behind the decision to release 19 000 convicts from jail to prevent them contracting COVID-19 instead. Why on earth was fraudster J Arthur Brown among them?

We moan about state capture and corporate collusion, but Brown defrauded more than a billion rand, impoverishing vulnerable widows just like the gogo selling atchar and literally stole the futures of orphans. It took the Supreme Court of Appeal to give him a sentence of 15 years. He’s only served half. Now he’ll be out, when he should have been left to rot behind bars.

Brown’s place in the cells will be taken, if not by toddlers or gogos, then others breaking regulations that by any stretch of the imagination are now kafka-esque after Minister Ebrahim Patel issued ones on Tuesday night that now ostensibly detail the kind of underpants we can buy or how we can wear cropped bottoms and T-shirts as winter underwear.

This isn’t the leadership most of us signed up for when we first heard “my fellow South Africans” seven weeks ago. We don’t need platitudes and inspirational quotes; we need the common sense and common decency that we all had at the beginning.

Originally published on 16 of May 2020 in the Saturday Star