Minister of Police Bheki Cele says that almost 230,000 cases have been opened against people for contravening the country’s lockdown regulations since they were first introduced at the end of March.
In a media briefing on Friday (22 May), Cele said that a significant portion of these arrests have occurred in the last few weeks, with 107,000 cases opened and 118,000 people charged for contravention of the lockdown regulations during towards the end of April.
He added that the provinces with the highest number of arrests for contravention of the lockdown regulations ‘almost mirror’ the provincial infection rates, with the Western Cape in the lead, followed by Eastern Cape, Kwa-Zulu Natal and Gauteng.
“The arrested persons were either issued with fines or released with warning, while some are out on bail and those cases relating to more serious offences are before the respective courts in the country,” he said.
“Criminals are opportunistic. Organised crime syndicates have taken advantage of the lockdown – especially on the ban of alcohol and cigarettes.”
Cele said that the SAPS have observed an increase in smuggling of contraband (liquor and tobacco) between South Africa’s land borders with Botswana, eSwatini, Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
There has also been an increase in the sale of these products in the black market, he said.
Despite these issues, Cele said that there has been a notable drop in the rate of crime since the country’s lockdown began.
He said that some of the most notable declines were seen in the ‘contact crime’ category, which includes domestic violence, robberies and hijackings.
“Although the lockdown figures for serious and violent crime 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.
“Most hijacking incidents were recorded in Gauteng followed by Western Cape, KwaZulu Natal and Eastern Cape.”
The high number of lockdown arrests is a point of concern – especially where an admission of guilt fine is attached.
The South African Police Service may give a person, who has been arrested on suspicion of a less serious crime, an option to pay an admission of guilt fine.
Such a fine allows a person to admit guilt for a less serious offence without having to appear in court. This prevents an unnecessary overload of the court system.
It is meant to resolve less serious matters quickly, where an accused person accepts responsibility for having committed a minor offence. However, people who pay an admission of guilt also attract a criminal record.
The Department of Justice and Correctional Services is currently working on new legislation which will stop admission of guilt fines attracting criminal records in South Africas, says deputy minister John Jefferies.
Jefferies made the announcement in a parliamentary briefing on Monday (18 May) after opposition parties raised concerns about how many people have been arrested for breaking the country’s lockdown regulations.
According to the ACDP’s Steve Swart, more than 100,000 South Africans were arrested within the first 21-days of South Africa’s lockdown.
After paying admission guilt fines, a number of these South Africans now face additional hardships because of the criminal record they have attached to their names, Swart said.
This could include potential difficulties in finding employment as well as leaving the country at a later date.