Updated: Apr 14
Authors: Candice Pillay – Director, Lawtons Africa
Article courtesy of Lawtons Africa

The nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus was announced on 23 March 2020 amid speculation and fear around the deployment of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), the South African Police Services (SAPS) and metropolitan police services.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s declaration of a national state of disaster invoked the provisions of the Disaster Management Act (DMA) [1], as amended. The President did not, however, declare a state of emergency as provided for in Section 37 of the Constitution [2], which would have invoked the State of Emergency Act (SOE) [3]. It is important to understand that the powers conferred on enforcement officers during a state of emergency and a state of disaster are entirely different.

During a state of disaster, the powers conferred by the DMA [4] are to (a) assist and protect the public, (b) provide relief to the public, (c) protect property, (d) prevent or combat disruptions, and (e) deal with the destructive and other effects of the disaster. This is the overall mandate of all enforcement officers during a state of disaster.

The Defence Act (DA) [5] allows the President to deploy the SANDF in order to (a) preserve life, health or property in emergency or humanitarian relief operations; (b) ensure the provision of essential services; (c) support any department of state, including support for purposes of socioeconomic upliftment; and (d) effect national border control [6]. During this deployment, a member of the Defence Force is regarded as being a peace officer [7] as defined in section 1 of the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA) [8]. As such, SANDF members have limited powers which are subordinate to the powers conferred on members of the SAPS. In circumstances where the SANDF are involved in crime prevention activities, any persons detained or arrested, or goods seized, must be handed over to the relevant SAPS member.

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