SOUTH Africans woke up on Friday March 27 to the grim realisation that they are again living in a police state. A nondescript government whose norm is irrationality has chosen a threatening, militaristic response rather than a persuasive one to the public health crisis. The performance of Bheki Cele has been deplorable. Where else would a disgraced national police commissioner feature in the Cabinet – as minister of police?

The streets are now a site of contestation between the people and the authorities. This makes the situation of the homeless and itinerant particularly vulnerable. Police culture has not changed materially since the apartheid era. As a public service it is indifferent and officers have been known to behave violently and recklessly. The 21-day lockdown will surely produce civil rights violations under regulations of which some will be deemed unconstitutional. The role of the press will be absolutely vital in recording illegality and abuse. The general public’s role as the eyes and ears of civil society has been diminished to the delight of the finger-wagging, authoritarian wing of the ANC. The power of the media to witness, then record events is crucial. People must remember that their legitimate freedom of speech has not been curtailed. When this state of disaster is over there will need to be a reckoning to ensure despotism does not become the new norm.

Witness, 30 March 2020