What to do when you are stopped by a soldier during lockdown

Many South Africans may be intimidated at the prospect of being stopped by a camouflage-clad, rifle-carrying SANDF soldier.

This may well be a situation citizens find themselves in during the coming weeks, however, as members of the SANDF have been deployed across the country.

There is a big distinction between what these soldiers are allowed to do during wartime, and during the lockdown, though.

MyBroadband spoke to policing law expert at Unisa Professor Rudolph Zinn on what citizens should expect from military officers, and how best to engage them.

Comply in the right way

Zinn said it is important to understand the mindset of the police and military in current circumstances, and to be mindful of the responsibility that has been given to them.

In light of this, he advised citizens to remain calm when they are stopped or pulled over.

According to law, you are allowed to ask for the identification of any of the people stopping you, but complying with the instruction of soldiers at roadblocks is legally expected.

“The most important thing is your attitude, it’s the way that you comply,” Zinn said.

Zinn highlighted incidents of provocation which have led to police officers and soldiers using force in recent days.

“We unfortunately see within the policing field at the moment, people are to an extent challenging the police or the soldiers, which makes for a difficult situation.”

“We must have sympathy for the police now that they are exposed to people who are not willing to comply with the regulations,” Zinn stated.

“We must keep them responsible, but we must do so with due respect for everyone’s circumstances.”

SANDF vs SAPS powers

The regulations issued by the government state that SANDF members are designated as enforcement officers.

According to Zinn, under the current lockdown regulations, SANDF soldiers enjoy no special powers above those which are afforded to the SAPS.

“In terms of the National Defence Act, if they are acting in support of the police, then the South African Police Act becomes relevant as well,” Zinn stated.

“There are sections in the Police Act that then would apply both to police officers as well as soldiers.”

These include all of the legislation pertaining to policing and certain sections of the Criminal Procedure Act, including procedure around arrests.

“The way that you would arrest somebody, the way that person should be detained, exhibits that may be seized are exactly the same – whether it’s for the police or the Defence Force.”

However, Zinn said that under the regulations, the army does not have any investigative powers.

“The moment there is an investigation, then it is a police matter,” Zinn noted.

He said the Minister of Justice has also published a regulation that states people should not be unnecessarily detained during the lockdown.

“If it is a minor matter, people should be either let go on warning to appear in a court at a specific time or they must receive bail at a police station,” Zinn said.

Important documents

When it comes to documentation you should carry, Zinn said an ID document or valid driver’s license is recommended.

Given the circumstances, it would be wise to have proof of residence as well. Examples of this include a municipal bill, bank statement, insurance cover confirmation, or rental contract.

This may be necessary given the limitations imposed on movement during the lockdown.

“You are not allowed to travel outside the metro or province that you are living in. They are restricting movement as far as crossing some of these borders,” Zinn said.

“So it’s important to be able to show that you are near your residential address and that it’s justified that you are travelling to a specific place within that vicinity.”

If you are travelling for essential appointments or to buy groceries, it is a good idea to take along proof that these are part of your plans.

“If you are going to an appointment at the hospital or a doctor, try and get confirmation such as an SMS or a document that they could email to you in advance.”

“If you are on your way to do shopping, I think it’s advisable to have a list for your shopping.”

Essential services

In the case of persons travelling to perform essential duties, Zinn said these employees must be furnished with a letter from the relevant company or institution that they work for.

“The regulations made available a pro forma that should be completed by the head of that institution, whether it’s a factory or Pick n Pay.”

“This must be signed and stamped as an official letter from that institution that proves that you are an employee of essential services,” Zinn explained.

This letter serves as a permit which must be shown at a roadblock or wherever necessary to allow workers to use transport and go to work.

The legal fraternity will have to acquire a different certificate to carry out their duties, Zinn added.

“There is a second permit that is now also being prepared as far as the regulations are concerned.”

“All of the people in the legal services, such as lawyers and advocates, if they want to represent their client or visit somebody in detention, then they have to obtain this certificate from the Department of Justice and they have to show this when they travel,” he explained.

Filming or recording officials

Citizens are allowed to film and take pictures of soldiers in the same way that they may record police or traffic officers, Zinn explained.

“Yes, they are allowed, because it’s a public space that they are moving in. Their actions are taking place in terms of the normal legislation in South Africa,” Zinn said.

“It is not a state of emergency, it’s a state of disaster. In a state of emergency you would have different rules that would apply,” he added.

However, he advised this be done in a way that is not aggressive or obtrusive towards the soldiers.

“It would be best to have some sort of a dashcam recorder that also records sound,” Zinn said.

In the event that you believe you were mistreated, it is important to take note of the following details:

  • Time and date of the incident
  • Location
  • Name of officers/soldiers
  • Registration or vehicle number
  • Description of the incident

Now read: South Africa’s scary coronavirus predictions that the lockdown is fighting

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What to do when you are stopped by a soldier during lockdown