Lockdown: NGO withdraws case against Ramaphosa, SANDF and police over alleged unlawful conduct

(Photo by Gallo Images/Ziyaad Douglas)
(Photo by Gallo Images/Ziyaad Douglas)

A non-governmental organisation (NGO), which approached the courts for an order to declare the conduct of police and soldiers during the lockdown as unconstitutional and unlawful, have withdrawn their application, a senior member has said.

Fair and Equitable Society (FES) lodged papers in the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria seeking the declaratory order after reports emerged of members of the South African Police Services (SAPS) and the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) being heavy-handed in their enforcement of the three week lockdown.

Law enforcement have even been accused of shooting at citizens. 

It included cases of alleged assault and humiliation of citizens allegedly not adhering to the regulations of the lockdown.

READ | Lockdown: Ramaphosa heads to court over SANDF, police complaints - report

FES argued that videos posted on social media and news reports showed that police officers and soldiers were acting unconstitutionally in enforcing the government mandated regulations.

On 26 March, President Cyril Ramaphosa, cited as a respondent because he is the commander-in-chief of the SANDF, ordered that a 21-day lockdown be implemented until 16 April.

READ | Law enforcement's role is to comfort and reassure, not to harm - Ramaphosa

He also directed the SANDF be deployed to assist police in ensuring citizens stay indoors, except to buy food and medication or to get medical attention - also known as "essential services".

Ramaphosa responded to the application by stating he had no reason to believe that soldiers or police officers had acted unlawfully.

But in cases where law enforcement may have engaged in unlawful activities, he added, the conduct of such members should be investigated, and the matter taken seriously.

News24 reported that concerns had been raised about the conduct of the police and the SANDF following claims of abuse, heavy-handed policing and the use of excessive force. 

In a statement on Monday, the legal director of FES, Samantha Sarjoo, confirmed the case had been withdrawn after they received a response from Ramaphosa and after further consultation with their legal team.

"As FES, we have made the decision to withdraw, not because there is a lack of a case but rather because we take the case quite seriously," Sarjoo said.

"We want to ensure that in our defence of the people of South Africa against any brutality, we are as thorough as possible, so that those in power do not abuse it any way." 

Sarjoo told News24 they will be monitoring the situation and intend to redraft their application, depending on the behaviour of the army and police. Based on this, they will decide whether to approach the courts again.

ALSO READ | Minister to SANDF: Do not use excessive force against citizens

She added that other people and organisations have approached FES, wanting to be involved in the application, which was the main reason for the withdrawal.

"We thought it best in the circumstances to withdraw and bolster our already strong case."

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