Hundreds of South African shoppers were dispersed by police and soldiers firing rubber bullets as they gathered outside a supermarket in Johannesburg in violation of a nationwide lockdown.
The incident happened on Saturday, second day of the 21-day lockdown that was ordered last week by President Cyril Ramaphosa to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
South Africa has recorded more than 1,100 cases of COVID-19, a steep rise in recent days. So far, it is believed only one death can be attributed to the virus.
South Africa’s total number of cases is the highest on the continent, though it also reflects much more extensive testing and tracing than elsewhere. There have so far been 3,924 cases in the continent, according to the African Union’s Centre for Disease Control, though experts say the figures are a gross underestimate.
Most African countries have now imposed measures ranging from shutting schools and banning religious services, to strict lockdowns such as that in South Africa, where all but essential workers must stay home, with only trips to buy groceries or seek medical attention allowed.
All restaurants, fast-food outlets, pubs, bars and taverns will be shut and transportation of alcohol has been banned. Ports, land border crossings and airports are effectively shut to passenger traffic.
Zimbabwe is the latest country to impose a full lockdown, which will come into effect on Monday. The country’s limited healthcare system would be rapidly overwhelmed if the virus spread among a population already weakened by malnutrition and diseases such as tuberculosis. Drugs are already rare, with even paracetamol hard to find in Harare, the capital.
Though the new restrictions have been largely respected in South Africa, police and soldiers have adopted a heavy-handed approach to defiance.
In the incident on Saturday, between 200 and 300 people had gathered in a tight-packed crowd outside a popular grocery store, Shoprite, in Yeoville, a crime-prone area in Johannesburg’s central business district.
Soldiers wearing face masks and gloves also patrolled Alexandra, a township in northern Johannesburg, and officials said 55 people had been arrested on Friday.
“These are people who don’t have a good will, people who are doing exactly what they were told not to do,” Bheki Cele, minister of police, said.
“We are staying at home now. Before we were going to the shops, but the soldiers are beating people so everyone is inside now,” said Emily Ndemande, a domestic worker who lives in Alexandra.
Other ministers praised “enormously high levels of cooperation by tens of millions of South Africans who have followed the call by the president to stay at home.”
Billionaire Patrice Motsepe announced that his group of companies would donate 1bn rand (£45.5m) to help fight the coronavirus outbreak that has forced the country into total lockdown as infections climb.
Motsepe, who is the president’s brother-in-law and head of investment firm African Rainbow Capital, said the money would be channelled through the government to build water, health and education facilities.
The pledge follows a 1bn rand donation each by the Oppenheimer and Rupert families, and a government package of more than 3bn rand for industrial firms. It comes a day after the country saw its sovereign credit rating downgraded to “junk” status.
Though South Africa has a young population, and COVID-19 is deadlier among older people, there are millions who are vulnerable because of HIV or malnutrition. The healthcare system has long had an acute lack of resources and critical facilities remain extremely limited despite recent efforts to expand capacity. (Source: The Guardian)