South Africa’s strict lockdown restrictions were eased on May 1 2020. Two days before, the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs published amended regulations.
Section 5 of the disaster management act now says “a person must wear a cloth face mask or a homemade item that covers the nose and mouth when in a public space”.
A person will not be allowed to use public transport or enter a public building if they are not wearing a face mask. Employers must give appropriate cloth face masks to staff who have direct contact with the public.
Lungi Mtshali, spokesperson for the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, told Africa Check researcher Naledi Mashishi that not wearing a mask in public was an offence.
“The regulations say you have to wear a mask in public. You can be fined,” he said. But he could not say how much the fine was.
But this was denied by South African Police Services spokesperson Vishnu Naidoo. He told Africa Check “it is not a crime if one doesn’t wear a mask”.
Constitutional law expert Prof Pierre de Vos agreed.
“No legal consequences are attached to not wearing a mask. This means the police cannot arrest you, fine you or otherwise punish you,” he said. “But I think it does mean that any shop can refuse entry if you do not wear a mask.”
Rhodes University dean of law, Prof Rosaan Krüger, backed this up. “In the absence of an explicit provision to make non-compliance an offence, it is not an offence.”
*Africa Check researcher Naledi Mashishi in Johannesburg, South Africa