South Africans arrested for not wearing masks in public places will have a criminal record, Police Minister Bheki Cele has warned.
Speaking to eNCA on Tuesday, Cele said the criminal record will kick in whether a suspect pays a fine or the trial proceeds before a magistrate.
He said, “[After arresting you] we take you to the police station [where] we take your fingerprints and you choose to pay the fine or you choose to see the magistrate.
“Both those processes give you a criminal record. That’s what South Africans should be wary of – that immediately you have a criminal record and we know what a criminal records will do to your life going forward.”
Cele said police have arrested around 7,000 people for not wearing masks in public so far and they have “manufactured” criminal records for themselves.
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced in December that it is mandatory to wear masks in public under the adjusted level 3 lockdown.
He said, “A person who does not wear a cloth mask covering over the nose and mouth in a public place will be committing an offence.
“A person who does not wear a mask could be arrested and prosecuted. On conviction, they will be liable to a fine or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or to both a fine and imprisonment.”
Cele vowed that the SA Police Service (SAPS) will continue enforcing alert level 3 regulations, including restrictions on church and beach gatherings as well as the 21h00-05h00 curfew.
“The nation must remember [that] we still work on our primary mandate as the SAPS [which is] crime prevention,” he emphasised.
The government moved South Africa to the adjusted level 3 lockdown in December following a surge in COVID-19 cases during the second wave.
“It is necessary that we keep the alert level 3 measures in place until we have passed the peak of new infections and we are certain that the rate of transmission has fallen enough to allow us to safely ease the current restrictions,” Ramaphosa said on Monday.