A fine vs jail time for not wearing a mask in South Africa – how it will work

Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola, has provided some clarity around South Africa’s new regulations for masks – including the potential punishment of a fine or jail time.

In a media briefing on Wednesday (15 July), Lamola said that those who do not follow the new regulations will be charged with breaching the Disaster Management Act, which has been extended to mid August.

However, he clarified that the government will not decide over the exact fines that will be imposed or whether jail time will be pursued. Instead, this falls within the ambit of the different courts, he said.

“The fines are as per the guidelines of the various chief magistrates across the country and will be dependent on the circumstances and the situation of the matter.”

He indicated that each case will be dealt with separately on the merits of the individual matter.

“There could be an instance where the magistrate chooses imprisonment because (the regulations) state the punishment is six months or the option of a fine.

“So it will be left to the magistrate to decide and choose which is the appropriate sentence under the circumstances.”

Rules around masks

The wearing of a cloth face mask, a homemade item, or another appropriate item that covers the nose and mouth is mandatory for every person when in a public place.

In addition, if not wearing a mask, no person will be allowed to:

  • Use, operate, perform any service on any form of public transport;
  • Enter or be in a building, place or premises, including government buildings, places or premises, used by the public to obtain goods or services; or
  • Be in any public open space.

The above does not apply to a person who undertakes ‘vigorous exercise’ in a public place, provided that the person maintains a distance of at least three metres from any other person, and subject to directions on what is considered to be ‘vigorous’ by the health minister.

Inline with existing regulations, an employer must provide every employee with a cloth face mask, homemade item, or another appropriate item that covers the nose and mouth, when in the workplace.

In addition, an employer may not allow any employee to perform any duties or enter the employment premises if the employee is not wearing an appropriate item.

Public transport drivers, managers, owners of buildings, and employers who do not enforce the above regulations will be liable to either a fine or six months imprisonment or both.

Legal opinion

Speaking to MyBroadband, Bowmans partner Daniel Pretorius further clarified that the new regulations do not specifically provide that somebody who does not wear a mask in a public space can be arrested.

“However, depending on the circumstances (e.g. if there are many people congregated in a small space), it might be permissible for a law enforcement officer to arrest somebody not wearing a mask if there is reason to be believe that this endangering the lives of others,” he said.  “It is unlikely this will occur in an open space.”

Pretorius added that the manager or owner of the building, and the person’s employer, will commit criminal offences if they fail to take reasonable steps to ensure each person in the building is wearing an appropriate mask.

“The manager or owner of the building and/or the employer can be arrested if they do not take reasonable steps to ensure each person in their building is wearing an appropriate mask,” he said.


Read: Not wearing a mask is now a criminal offence in South Africa: minister

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A fine vs jail time for not wearing a mask in South Africa – how it will work