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Activist makes a plea to allow citizens to report lockdown violations in Covid-19 hotspot

Activist makes a plea to allow citizens to report lockdown violations in Covid-19 hotspot
The Nelson Mandela Bay metro has complained that residents are out late at night and do not wear their masks, contributing to a sharp increase in cases in the city. (Photo: Donna van der Watt)

‘Please save us.’ This heartfelt plea was contained in a letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa written by Nelson Mandela Bay community activist Gary van Niekerk this week. He wants improved law enforcement in the metro and for community leaders to be able to report those who break lockdown laws.

Following a decision by the national command council to declare Nelson Mandela Bay a coronavirus hotspot and impose additional restrictions on social gatherings, the sale of alcohol and impose a 10pm curfew, an activist from the metro’s Northern Areas has pleaded with President Cyril Ramaphosa to ensure that law enforcement in the city includes community members.

According to statistics released on Sunday, the city has 330 new cases on top of 2,754 active cases. This city with 1.1 million residents has also recorded 1,933 Covid-19 deaths. The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) has estimated the current incidence rate for the city at 300/100,000.

Last week, President Ramaphosa announced that Nelson Mandela Bay was a coronavirus hotspot and that a number of additional restrictions were being imposed on the metro. These included limiting the hours that alcohol can be sold, a ban on gatherings after funerals, strict limitations on religious gatherings, a 10pm curfew and a ban on drinking at the beachfront and in public parks.

Gary van Niekerk, a community activist working in Port Elizabeth’s Northern Areas, wrote a letter to Ramaphosa asking that community members be actively involved in enforcing the stricter rules, and for improved leadership in the fight against Covid-19.

Port Elizabeth’s Northern Areas were created in the late 1960s and 1970s through forced removals by the apartheid government. People who were classified as “coloured” were moved from their homes in South End, Fairview, Salisbury Park, North End and Willowdene.

Addressing his letter to Ramaphosa, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize and the Minister of Police Bheki Cele, Van Niekerk asked that community leaders be given a more direct line to report hotspot violations.

“I write to all of you from the beautiful, friendly city of Port Elizabeth, forming part of the Nelson Mandela metropole, which has recently been declared a hotspot for the spread of the virus. 

“I am a community activist in the Northern Areas of Port Elizabeth. This email is written on behalf of all in the metro, and not only the Northern Areas.

“When we were placed under lockdown Level 5 earlier this year, we as residents of the metro saw very little change in our metro in terms of how people, particularly in poorer communities, reacted to the lockdown regulations.  

“Together with this scant regard for regulations, very little was done by the authorities in terms of enforcing these regulations. From the statistics provided by the department of health, it is evident that there is a direct correlation between the number of infections in the poorer areas of the metro, poor or no leadership in the metro by our local authorities, and no policing of lockdown regulations. 

“Trying to remotely manage the metro in terms of curbing the spread of the virus has also failed, looking at when the country was placed on Level 5 lockdown. It’s therefore no coincidence that the Nelson Mandela metro was declared a hotspot by the president.”

He said Ramaphosa, Mkhize and Cele should “set up camp” in the Nelson Mandela Bay metro from 15 December to 2 January.

“In light of the above, we as the poorer communities of the Nelson Mandela metro, propose the following strategy as a possible solution in order to save thousands of lives not only in the metro but also the country, as many from the metro will return to other parts of the country in January of 2021.”

He said community activists and leaders, as well as community policing forums, should be given direct access to senior police officers to report breaches of the lockdown regulations.

“All the above mentioned people and organisations, together with the president and the ministers of health and police, as a collective, become first responders in going to address those breaking the lockdown regulations. 

“It is my firm belief that without this urgent intervention, declaring the Nelson Mandela metro a hotspot will be paying lip service in our fight against the pandemic. We need to back our words with the necessary actions. 

“Please see this as a cry for help to save our city and its people, particularly the poor, as well as the rest of the country. It’s by no means an attack on any of you. The request is made mindful of the fact that, in theory, fighting the virus starts with the individual. 

“Unfortunately, history has proven that as obvious as it may seem to protect oneself against the virus, this is not the case in practice. Please save us.” 

Nelson Mandela Bay metro spokesperson Mamela Ndamase said roadblocks were set up to police the curfew on Sunday night. 

“Fifty-two vehicles were stopped during the operation, with one fine issued for having no valid driving licence… others were given a verbal warning while eight of the drivers produced permits. 

“The other motorists were educated on the curfew between 22h00 and 04h00, and warned to immediately return to their place of residence.

“The city could not issue fines related to the curfew regulations or make arrests as we are still waiting for the admission of guilt list from the magistrate for the new Covid-19 regulations. The SAPS is working on getting the list,” she said. DM/MC

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