Police minister warns public against fake videos and pulls no punches when it comes to alcohol prohibition laws, saying they should remain in place even after lockdown
Police Minister Bheki Cele has given the clearest indication yet that regulations prohibiting the sale and drinking of alcohol during the lockdown will not be relaxed, even remarking that he wished they were extended beyond this period.
Cele has placed alcohol at the centre of South Africa’s high crime rate. He told City Press during an interview this week that there had been a significant drop in the number of violent crimes reported since the lockdown began on Friday, March 27.
“It is a known thing that alcohol is part of the crime generators … [When it comes to] most people who are murdered or sexually abused, it usually starts on Thursday until the end of the weekend [and] those people will be found at alcohol outlets,” he said.
‘I WOULD TAKE BAN BEYOND LOCKDOWN’
The minister said he believed that minimising the use of alcohol was a step in the right direction for the country.
He said it was one of the regulations he wished he could continue implementing even beyond the lockdown period.
“My first prize would be that we shut down alcohol, but I know we cannot do that. Nothing tells me that taking alcohol will make life easier,” he said.
This week, lobby group the SA Drug Policy Initiative said the ban on the sale of alcohol and tobacco during the lockdown should be reversed as soon as possible.
The organisation said the lockdown plan was discriminating against the poor, was putting the health of the mentally ill and the marginalised at risk, and was gifting crime syndicates and gangs with another source of income.
According to statistics bandied about in news reports this week, 87 000 cases of gender-based violence were reported over the past week.
However, Cele said these numbers were, in fact, from 2019.
About 15 000 cases had been reported this year, he said, of which 2 320 were reported during the lockdown.
Charges had been laid regarding 184 cases.
“For South Africa, alcohol has not been the only issue when it comes to regulations relating to the Covid-19 coronavirus. Murder has gone down in South Africa. Even in the butcher of the republic, the Western Cape, murder numbers have really gone down. The impact of the reduction of alcohol has had an impact on ordinary crime, especially violent crime,” added Cele.
The lockdown had even reduced the number of cash-in-transit heists, he said, thanks to the countrywide roadblocks and increased police visibility.
‘WESTERN CAPE IS NOT A SUPERPROVINCE’
Cele took a hard line regarding Western Cape premier Alan Winde’s announcement early in the week that cigarettes would be sold in the province for the remainder of the 21-day lockdown.
He said Winde had no power to divert from the regulations announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa and his national command council.
The premier needed to realise that the Western Cape was not a “superprovince”, Cele said.
“The Western Cape is part of South Africa and this is a national law. Everybody should respect a national law.”
Winde raised eyebrows this week after announcing that the Western Cape was contemplating resuming the sale of cigarettes for the rest of the lockdown.
He said cigarettes were an essential item and that he had discussed the matter with the relevant stakeholders.
Cele told City Press that none of the lawyers representing the SA Police Service (SAPS) lawyers had been in consultation with Winde, nor had they approved the sale of cigarettes in the Western Cape.
He disclosed that he had called the premier after hearing of the announcement, hoping to engage him on the decision.
However, Winde had quickly contacted Ramaphosa and complained about remarks Cele had made publicly about the decision.
The minister called Winde a “cry-baby” for involving the president, saying he should have rather engaged him on the matter.
“A day after [the lockdown announcement], we relooked at the regulations. I said to the premier: ‘If you want the agreement, throw the cigarette issue into a bigger discussion. Do not go to your province and change the law.’”
The Western Cape had been allowed to submit a list of items which it deemed essential.
The decision now lies in the hands of the national command council.
Cele charged that Winde was trying to compare cigarettes with dry wood, which many families use for cooking.
He argued that people can live without cigarettes, insisting that studies showing otherwise should be disregarded.
“The thing that has been proved to be essential is dry wood. It is part of the food production line. If you do not have wood, you do not have food; but if you do not have cigarettes, what will happen?”
‘JUST STAY HOME AND AVOID TROUBLE’
Reacting to concerns about police brutality during the lockdown, Cele said the police had largely abided by Ramaphosa’s directive that law enforcement agencies behave in an empathetic manner towards communities.
However, he said, the Criminal Procedure Act allowed the police to use force if attacked or threatened by members of the public.
“People need to understand that we are the law enforcers,” he said, adding that there would be fewer complaints if people simply stayed at home, as per lockdown regulations.
Cele warned the public against taking at face value the numerous social media posts showing members of the SAPS and the SA National Defence Force using excessive force over the past week.
He said he was aware of only one case in which a police officer had overstepped the mark. “I have not seen any brutality; just one officer I saw using a sjambok.”
Questioning the authenticity of videos circulating on social media, he said some were old footage and should be checked before being assumed to be evidence of lockdown-related police actions.
He encouraged South Africans to continue taking videos of irregular police activity, stating that officials had no right to confiscate people’s devices.
“Take the videos; you are allowed to. Police must allow them. Those videos should be genuine, not videos that are there to humiliate the police,” he said.
In the same breath, Cele added the media was quick to report on these alleged injustices against citizens but had overlooked the insults that had been hurled at ministers.
Cele said there were numerous memes and videos circulating on social media which showed people not only insulting him, but also deliberately breaking lockdown rules.
“Communities were asked to stay at home. There was one person who spoke to the security forces – the president. He was emphatic in saying [to them]: ‘The people of this country are not your enemies. We have one enemy, which is the coronavirus.’
“The president told them to make sure they use the softest ever approach to the public … So, whoever told people [that police were going to] to skop, skiet en donder, I don’t know,” he said.