More than 230 000 people have been criminally charged since the start of the nationwide lockdown on the 31st of March. On the 22nd of May, the fedora-wearing police commissioner, Bheki Cele, told journalists at a media briefing that a significant portion of these arrests had been affected in the last few weeks.
According to him 107 000 cases were opened, and 118 000 people were charged with contravening the lockdown regulations in the run up to May. He noted that the provinces with the highest number of arrests were the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Kwa-Zulu Natal and Gauteng.
Most of these arrested people have either already been released on warnings or are currently out on bail. The more serious offences such as gender-based violence, rape or murder are currently being heard in the respective courts across the country.
More concerning the incredibly high number of lockdown arrests, is the arrests where an admission of guilt fine is attached. During the lockdown the SAPS may give you the option to pay what they call an admission of guilt fine after they arrest you. Such a fine allows a person to admit guilt for a less serious offense without having to appear in court.
This, in theory, is meant to prevent the unnecessary overload of the court system and resolve less serious matters quickly. The problem is that people who pay these admission of guilt fines also attract a criminal record. A criminal record for something as trivial as not exercising while being outside, or not wearing a face mask while driving alone in your car, brings about a whole other set of challenges such as difficulty in finding employment and leaving the country at a later stage.
The Department of Justice and Correctional Services has said that they are currently working on new legislation which will stop admission of guilt fines attracting criminal records in South Africa. This according to the deputy police minister, John Jefferies. Jefferies made the announcement in a parliamentary briefing on Monday (18th of May) after opposition parties raised concerns about how many people have been arrested for breaking the country’s lockdown regulations.
This will not have any bearing on serious crimes which fall outside the lockdown regulations.
Almost as though lending further credence to the absurdity of the ban on cigarettes and alcohol, Cele stated that the SAPS have noticed a sharp increase in the smuggling of contraband between South Africa and its neighbouring countries. “There has also been an increase in the sale of these products on the black market,” he said (surprise, surprise).
“There has been a notable drop in the rate of crime since the lockdown, especially in the contact crimes such as domestic violence and robberies. Although the lockdown figures for serious and violent crimes are still lower in comparison to 2019, we have noted an increase in hijackings, especially if we compare the first two weeks of level 5 to the first two weeks of the level 4 lockdown,” he said.