7,000 people have already been arrested for not wearing masks and most of them now have criminal records.
This is feedback from police minister Bheki Cele who was speaking to ENCA about the enforcement of the new lockdown regulations.
Cele said 342,000 people have been arrested since the lockdown started in March last year.
Between 28 December 2020 and 7 January 2021, when the new level 3 lockdown rules kicked in, 20,116 people have been arrested.
Most of the arrests over the last two weeks were related to alcohol offences or not wearing a mask.
Cele highlighted that it is now a criminal offence not to wear a mask in public and that 7,000 people have been arrested for this crime.
This follows a warning from President Cyril Ramaphosa in December that people who aren’t wearing masks in public can be arrested.
“Given the grave danger our country now faces, the adjusted level 3 regulations will make every individual legally responsible for wearing a mask in public,” said Ramaphosa.
“A person who does not wear a cloth mask covering over the nose and mouth in a public place will be committing an offence,” he said.
A person who does not wear a mask could be arrested and prosecuted. On conviction, they will be liable to a fine or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or to both a fine and imprisonment.
“This is a drastic measure but is now necessary to ensure compliance with the most basic of preventative measures,” Ramaphosa said.
What happens when you are arrested for not wearing a mask
Cele said when people are arrested for not wearing a mask, they are taken to a police station, charged, and have their fingerprints taken.
They are then given a choice:
- Pay an admission of guilt fine, which typically range between R300 and R1,500.
- Appear in the Magistrate Court and plead to the charges.
There are some cases where there are no admission of guilt fines and where a court appearance is compulsory. This includes:
- Not wearing a face mask while using or operating public transport like a bus or taxi.
- Not wearing a face mask when entering or be in a building, place or premises used by the public to obtain goods or services.
For people who opt to go to court, there will be a trial where the magistrate decides whether the person is guilty and what their sentence should be.
If a person is found guilty, the sentence imposed by the magistrate may include a fine which can be higher than the initial admission of guilt fine.
Cele highlighted that both admission of guilt fines and being found guilty by the magistrate will result in a person getting a criminal record.