Covid-19

Clashes between cops and shops over Covid-19 lockdown

Retailers go to court and China steps into help its nationals

05 April 2020 - 00:00 By SUTHENTIRA GOVENDER, ZIMASA MATIWANE and TANIA BROUGHTON
A man is told to close his shop on Louis Botha Avenue, in Johannesburg.
A man is told to close his shop on Louis Botha Avenue, in Johannesburg.
Image: ALON SKUY​

As the Covid-19 crisis deepens, some lockdown offenders are fighting back against authorities who have clamped down on them for allegedly flouting regulations of the Disaster Management Act.

Durban business owners, including supermarket retailers and butchers, say that charges against them border on discrimination, are a violation of their human rights and amount to grandstanding.

The owners of Oxford Family Supermarkets in Durban, with stores on the Bluff and in Hillcrest, have threatened to sue the police if its officers continue to obstruct them from operating around the clock. Police allege the businesses do not ensure social distancing.

Co-owners Brett Latimer and Paul Beltramo instructed attorney Jacques Botha to issue a letter to the KwaZulu-Natal provincial police commissioner, Lt-Gen Khombinkosi Jula, and the Durban metro police commissioner, Steve Middleton, on Thursday after one of their stores was shut down and a manager arrested the day before.

Latimer told the Sunday Times the manager was charged with contravening regulations of the Disaster Management Act 2020.

Covid-19 cases in SA. Source: News Reports/Department of Health
Covid-19 cases in SA. Source: News Reports/Department of Health
Image: Nolo Moima

“We have been unfairly targeted. I'm not sure why,” he said.

Botha demanded “immediate corrective action” by the police officers and that the officers be “properly” informed about the applicable legislation.

“In the event that the conduct complained of does not cease with immediate effect, our client will have no option but to approach the high court for necessary relief,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Chinese consulate in Durban said it was concerned about two incidents involving Chinese nationals.

in numbers

160,000 - The number of customers Oxford Family Supermarkets recorded at its stores in March

R20 000 - Bail granted to Ming Lai

A Chinese businessman, Ming Lai, was arrested this week after he allegedly locked up 14 employees and forced them to make protective face masks.

Lai has said he was arrested and treated inhumanely when he was only trying to help SA stop the spread of Covid-19.

In the second incident, a multidisciplinary team closed the Xinhua Distribution Centre in central Durban on Wednesday after allegations that the Chinese nationals who operated stores in the building had tested positive for Covid-19.


In a statement, the Chinese consul-general in Durban, Fei Mingxing, asked for the rights of Chinese citizens and legal processes to be guaranteed.

Another business that has taken legal advice is Star Meat Market. This was after criminal charges had been withdrawn against its manager, Denver Naidoo, after a confrontation with KwaZulu-Natal economic development MEC Nomusa Dube-Ncube, which was broadcast on social media.

Naidoo was arrested and charged with contravening the Consumer Protection Act. A prosecutor subsequently declined to place the matter on the court roll because of a lack of evidence.


Naidoo's attorney, Shamla Pather, described the incident as a “complete abuse of the legal system”.


Paul Jorgensen, an advocate whom Pather instructed to act on behalf of Naidoo, said: “I do appreciate they are trying to do good, but what happened was all about publicity and scare tactics and not about justice.”

Dube-Ncube said the department had been inundated with calls from people complaining about a sudden increase in prices at various retailers, including pharmacies and butcheries.

“The department's consumer protection services has received more than 2,000 complaints, most relating to price hiking,” she said. “There are workers who have complained about a lack of social distance, unhygienic conditions and lack of sanitisers.”

Responding to the concerns raised by affected business owners, the national police spokesperson, Brig Vish Naidoo, said these had been “noted”.

“However, our security forces are guided by the Disaster Management Act when executing their duties during this lockdown period.

“I am unfortunately not privy to the merits of every case that is happening around the country,” he said.

Paul Jorgensen, an advocate whom Pather instructed to act on behalf of Naidoo, said: “I do appreciate they are trying to do good, but what happened was all about publicity and scare tactics and not about justice.”

Dube-Ncube said the department had been inundated with calls from people complaining about a sudden increase in prices at various retailers, including pharmacies and butcheries.

“The department's consumer protection services has received more than 2,000 complaints, most relating to price hiking,” she said. “There are workers who have complained about a lack of social distance, unhygienic conditions and lack of sanitisers.”

Responding to the concerns raised by affected business owners, the national police spokesperson, Brig Vish Naidoo, said these had been “noted”.

“However, our security forces are guided by the Disaster Management Act when executing their duties during this lockdown period.

“I am unfortunately not privy to the merits of every case that is happening around the country,” he said.


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