JOHANNESBURG – South Africa's strict, five-week lockdown, credited with slowing the rate of coronavirus infections and reducing overall crime, has also been marked by some violence.
The stay-at-home order for the country's 57 million people does not allow going outside or dog-walking, except for visits to grocery stores, pharmacies and doctors. No sales of alcohol or cigarettes are permitted in the lockdown, which lasts until the end of April.
South Africa’s has the continent's highest number of infections with more than 2,100 confirmed cases and 25 deaths. Fifty-two of Africa's 54 countries have reported the virus, with just over 14,500 cases and 788 deaths, according to figures released Monday by the Africa Center for Disease Control.
South Africa’s restrictions have succeeded in reducing the country’s average daily increase of confirmed COVID-19 cases from 42% to about 4% since the lockdown began on March 27, said President Cyril Ramaphosa last week when extending the measures until the end of April.
One of the world's most unequal countries, South Africa has shut down most commercial activity, an action that has especially hurt the most vulnerable poor.
In Johannesburg, food was distributed Monday to homeless people who survive by picking through garbage and taking glass, plastic and other materials to recycling centers.
“I’m very happy with the food parcels that we’ve received,” said waste picker Esther Soto. "We are hungry due to the lockdown and we can’t fend for our children.”
Although widely praised as effective, South Africa's restrictions have been marred by allegations of at least one death from police brutality, the looting of liquor stores and increased reports of gender-based violence.
“It is disturbing that during a time of such immense difficulty for our country, women and girls are being terrorized inside their own homes, forcing them to make desperate calls for help,” wrote Ramaphosa Monday.
More than 148 people have been arrested in 2,300 reports of gender-based violence since the lockdown started, said the president in his weekly letter to the nation.
In one case, a police officer responding to a report of domestic violence was shot dead by a man who then killed himself in Johannesburg's posh Sandton suburb.
Some police and soldiers enforcing the lockdown have been accused of brutality.
A man in Johannesburg's Alexandra township died after soldiers found beer at his home, accused him of violating the lockdown and beat him, according to allegations by witnesses. The South African National Defense Force said it is investigating the incident.
In Cape Town and the surrounding Western Cape province, 16 liquor stores have been burgled and 21 suspects arrested.
Crime is down overall and police are pursuing all reports of violations, said police minister Bheki Cele. He said four police officers had been arrested for allegedly selling liquor illegally.
The Gauteng Liquor Forum, representing more than 6,000 liquor traders, said they are suffering enormous financial losses and proposed being permitted to operate for reduced hours.