The country is now on what is popularly known as lockdown in an attempt by government to stop the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus.
As necessary as this desperate measure is, it has also exposed the deep-seated deficiency in our country’s armed forces – the persisting legacy of apartheid brutality, 26 years into our constitutional democracy.
If our country bears the imprints of its apartheid past, the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) and SA Police Service (SAPS) have become a shining example in this regard.
They have illuminated this legacy with aplomb.
The great irony in the current health crisis humanity faces is that black people are again the victims of this legacy of brutality.
What is even more concerning, as a paradox, is that Covid-19 was brought into the country by the privileged white elite that had travelled abroad to risky countries and returned without declaring where they had been.
Read: Covid-19 lockdown: Be a force of kindness not of might, Ramaphosa tells SANDF
They came through our international airports and travelled to different destinations across the country, while mingling with other people and thus putting all our lives in danger.
The SANDF and police have been deployed to enforce the lockdown in terms of the regulations announced by government.
The constant refrain from our officialdom whenever the army is deployed is that the force is not like the police, they ‘skop and donner’.
This translated to me that, whenever the army is deployed, they have a licence to brutalise black people.
This approach has become their modus operandi in the townships and elsewhere where black people live.
Black people are kicked around, punched, whipped and made to perform some of the most degrading and dehumanising acts.
Our townships are slowly resembling those of the state of emergency declared by PW Botha in the 1985.
Black people have now become the scapegoat in rising anger about the virus.
Interestingly, if tragically, our army and police treat white people with the greatest respect whenever they contravene these regulations.
We have seen some white people go surfing, walking their dogs and jogging.
Instead of being kicked around, punched, whipped or made to do dehumanising acts by the armed forces, they have been treated with dignity, nicely told to go to their places of abode or respectfully ushered into police vans as they get arrested.
To illustrate this point, a black man was reported to have been severely beaten and pepper-sprayed by the police in Cape Town.
He later collapsed and died after telling his family what the police had done to him.
He was a good man who had lost his job just a few years before and had been sent to buy alcohol by a neighbour.
This was in violation of the regulations issued by the government, but it was no different from those who went surfing or jogging, or walked their dogs.
But here the police reserved brutality for a black offender, and courtesy for white offenders.
This level of brutality meted out to black people by the SANDF and SAPS reveals an army and police force that is still fundamentally untransformed 26 years into democracy.
The fact that these armed forces are a creation of the Constitution is only academic.
Their make-up, outlook and modus operandi still exude the apartheid approach of brutality.
They feel that they have the support from the top echelons of government to behave as they do.
Accordingly, the racialised brutality by our armed forces is also a symptom of a system that is born of structural economic inequalities in our country.
The many black people who are economically distressed become easy prey to the SANDF and SAPS because they have no means to challenge in our courts the violence meted out to them.
They live in congested squalor and, because of that condition, they are easily treated as the scum of the earth who must be brutalised at will by the army and police.
The general thrust of the measures outlined by the government in fighting Covid-19 is worthy of support, although there are some limitations to them.
Being in uncharted waters, such limitations are understandable and will hopefully be corrected in due course.
However, the fundamental abuse of black people’s rights by some SANDF and SAPS zealots in their enthusiastic enforcement of these measures is in itself a violation of those measures and totally unacceptable.
It is a dereliction of their responsibilities as prescribed in the Constitution, and deserves unbridled condemnation.
Makatse is an attorney and director of Makatse Attorneys
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