The SAPS have water cannoned downtrodden and destitute people queuing for their SASSA grants in Bellville today. Their crime? Allegedly not social distancing enough.
Many of these people reportedly have chronic medical conditions, have been queuing overnight and slept on the pavement. They are clearly no threat to anyone. And are certainly in no condition to be roughly manhandled and sprayed with a water cannon.
When law enforcement treats people who have been failed by their government for decades and are dependent on welfare for their survival with heavy-handed brutality because they are queuing too closely together, then I think our society has crossed a line that takes us another step closer to the abyss.
The past few weeks we have seen conduct from the authorities that is nothing short of reprehensible. In response to this we have seen examples of citizens assaulting law enforcement officials who enforce lockdown regulations.
This is not a surprising development. If law enforcement behaves in a tyrannical and heavy-handed manner, then society will obviously not respect them.
I dryly remarked a few days ago that most people probably feel one of two emotions when they see a SAPS vehicle (fear or hatred) these days. Such emotions may not be justified in reality, but ultimately reality doesn’t matter. If the public perception is that they are being oppressed by the police, then that heuristic will frame the general image of law enforcement.
Which is, at present and after months and months of erosion of civil liberties, one of fear, distrust, and loathing.
The alarming result of this is very likely going to be an intensifying cycle of escalation of violence, where the public will more frequently display open hostility to the police, who will respond with harsher enforcement measures, which in turn will further escalate public violence towards the police. And so on, and so forth.
There is no happy ending to such a situation.
The Arab Spring started as a result of authoritarian excess perpetrated upon an already destitute, starving, and desperate population. Elements certainly present in today’s events in Bellville.
If SAPS leadership and governmental officials don’t fast and furiously develop serious amounts of finesse, we may be heading for a potentially bloody confrontation between the state and the citzens.
I hope I am wrong about that. But if we have more atrocities like the one the SAPS committed in Bellville today, I fear things will get much worse.
Written by Gideon Joubert
Gideon is the owner and editor of Paratus.