The lockdown regulations implemented by Minister of Co-operative Governance and Corporate Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma have created a looming social disaster in South Africa, according to Justice Project South Africa chair Howard Dembovsky.
Dembovsky argues that many South Africans are being made into “artificial criminals” when they are issued with criminal records upon paying a fine for infringing lockdown regulations.
The option to pay an admission of guilt fine may be offered to those arrested by the SAPS for breaking lockdown regulations, allowing the person to admit guilt without having to appear in court.
People who pay this fine will be issued with a criminal record, however, which can have severe implications on employment and travel opportunities, and will last for a minimum of 10 years.
The Ministry of Justice has acknowledged that the issuance of criminal records for those people who pay admission of guilt fines in these cases is incorrect, but the law will not be amended to reflect this any time soon.
“That the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services has finally acknowledged that, amongst other legislation, the Criminal Procedure Act is outdated, apartheid-era legislation is cold comfort,” Dembovsky said.
“Amending and/or repealing legislation does not happen overnight. It is a lengthy process.”
Dembovsky said that finding a job in South Africa will be more difficult than ever after the COVID-19 pandemic, and citizens will be further hampered by the unnecessary imposition of criminal records.
“What we now have on our hands is a looming social disaster,” Dembovsky said.
“Not only will jobs be hard to come by going forward, but those who have incurred a criminal record for no good reason will be excluded from even applying for those jobs that are available.”
“This could have been avoided if Minister Dlamini-Zuma had not been so hasty to prescribe violations of the Disaster Management Act (DMA) regulations as criminal offences,” he said.
Dembovsky noted that there was nothing stopping the government from prescribing administrative fines which carry no criminal consequences for those who break curfew and other lockdown rules.
“Furthermore, had things been done differently, nowhere near as many people would have been unnecessarily arrested, exposed to the obvious elevated risk of contracting the virus and in many cases, abused,” he said.
“But that would have taken some forethought regarding the consequences of declaring open season on citizens who were and are seen to be ‘undermining the authority of the State’.”
“Suffice to say that I am not happy, and I do not feel that anyone else should be either,” he added.