Failure to enforce wearing of masks can get you a criminal record: Lamola

South Africans must wear masks in public or potentially face criminal charges, ministers Ronald Lamola and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma have warned.
South Africans must wear masks in public or potentially face criminal charges, ministers Ronald Lamola and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma have warned.
Image: ALON SKUY

Failure to enforce the wearing of a face mask could result in a criminal record for event organisers, store managers and other compliance officers, the government has warned.

And if individual compliance does not improve, then the government may impose the same criminality on individuals who do not adhere to the mandatory wearing of masks announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday.

“It does indeed create a criminal offence,” said justice and correctional services minister Ronald Lamola on Monday, responding to a question on whether wearing a mask would attract a criminal record.

“It does not differentiate between a fine and an imprisonment - both of them do give you some kind of a criminal offence. It's something which we are still dealing with. But at this stage, that is what it is - that is the law.”

But for now, the obligation and duty of ensuring compliance is on those responsible for workplaces, store managers and owners, building owners and those responsible for organising events where the public congregate.

Lamola warned that if the cabinet does not see any improvement in terms of people's behaviour, and in terms of public education, it will treat individuals who do not wear masks as criminals.

The government's latest regulations have made it mandatory for everyone to wear a mask outdoors.

It's a decision that has not been taken lightly, but it has been necessitated by the various misdemeanours we have found.”

Lamola said there are people who have previously defied orders to wear a mask in public, saying it was not the law. This has risked the lives of other members of public and law enforcement officials, he said.

Co-operative governance & traditional affairs (Cogta) minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said the matter was about protecting people and not criminalising them.

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

The ministers also explained the rationale behind the prohibition on visiting family members.

“Visiting family is still not allowed because just by its very nature, when you get to a family place, the instinct is to come near, the instinct is to hug them, but also social distancing doesn't usually happen," Dlamini-Zuma.

More importantly, she said, the risk lies in the intergenerational nature of families, whereby younger people who move around and may be carrying the virus while asymptomatic could infect their elderly relatives.

The family setting is also a space that has created a loophole for private parties, which have led to a spike in infections in various parts of the country, said Lamola. “It is also not an easy space to monitor and deal with issues of compliance from the enforcement perspective,” he added.

Ministers said the public could still make written submissions to the latest regulations by writing to comments@hsrc.ac.za


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