Not wearing a mask is now a criminal offence Justice Minister confirms

Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola. Picture: Jacques Nelles

Those in charge of buildings at workplaces, churches, or even responsible for organising funerals, must ensure everyone wears a mask.

Justice Minister Ronald Lamola says the government had been reluctant to criminalise the non-compliance of wearing masks, but has been left with no choice due to people’s irresponsible behaviour.

When the country was first placed under lockdown, the government encouraged the wearing of masks, but it would now be enforced as part of measures to slow the spread of Covid-19.

But Lamola added the obligation had been placed on the shoulders of compliance officers of public buildings, and not on individuals.

He made the comments at a media briefing on Monday, following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s address to the nation on Sunday evening.

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Ramaphosa announced numerous interventions in the face of rising Covid-19 cases in the country.

The sale of alcohol was banned – again – and a night time curfew was reinstated. The wearing of masks is now mandatory. Taxis operating at local level are allowed to ferry 100% commuters, while long-distance taxis have to adhere to a 70% restriction.

“At this stage, it’s compulsory, but the obligation and duty have been put on the store managers, building owners and those responsible for various places that members of the public congregate or find themselves in,” said Lamola.

Responsibility

This means those in charge of buildings, at workplaces, churches, or even responsible for organising funerals, would assume responsibility for ensuring everyone wore a mask.

“It’s a decision not taken lightly, but necessitated by various misdemeanours found that even people in shops defy that they can’t wear a mask and there is nothing that the shop owner can do because it is not the law,” he said.

He added there had been instances in the country where people have been irresponsible by refusing to wear masks, saying it made it difficult for others and law enforcement officials to enforce.

Cool to wear a mask

Lamola said they were still dealing with some aspects of this development at the moment, but there was no difference between a fine and imprisonment as they both culminated in a criminal offence.

“It must be embarrassing to move around without wearing a mask; it must be cool to move with a mask.”

He added if there was no improvement with compliance to the regulation, then the government would have to impose a similar regulation and make it an individual’s obligation to wear a mask.

Supporting this view is Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu who said the spirit the country needed was of being “my brother and my sister’s keeper”.

He added this would see citizens monitoring and reminding each other to wear masks.

“Our hope is that no one will ever have to be fined for not wearing a mask, that no one will get a criminal record for not wearing a mask because everyone will wear a mask,” said Dlamini-Zuma.

She added people should not concern themselves with the fine, but rather the actual wearing of masks.

“It’s not about criminalising people, it’s not about fining them, it’s about protecting ourselves and all those around us.”

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