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

Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola says that it is now a criminal offence to not wear a mask in a public space in South Africa – but the liability lies with ‘compliance officers’, for now.

Speaking in a ministerial media briefing on Monday (13 July), Lamola said that government has taken steps to criminalise the offence as a large number of people still fault to wear masks in taxis and while shopping.

“It has made the lives of members of the public difficult including law enforcement officers’ lives very difficult if people are not wearing a mask in a particular place.”

“(The new regulations) as they stand do not differentiate between a fine and imprisonment. Both of them do give you some kind of criminal offence,” he said.

While this seems to imply that people who fail to wear masks will attract a criminal offence, the new lockdown directive published on Sunday indicates that the duty of enforcement still lies with compliance officers.

The directive indicates that any employer, manager or owner of a building used by the public to obtain goods or services, will be responsible if any person enters and remains in such building, place or premises, without wearing a mask.

The penalty, should they not take all reasonable measures to ensure masks are worn, is a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or to both such fine and imprisonment. This penalty is now contained in regulation 14(5) of the regulations.

However, Lamola said if public behaviour does not improve, the cabinet will consider imposing “the issue of criminality for individuals”.

Public areas

According to the new lockdown directive published on Sunday, 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.

Read: 10 reasons why the alcohol ban is back, according to Mkhize

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