coronavirus,ronald lamola
Minister of Justice and Correctional Development, Ronald Lamola. (GCIS)
  • While wearing a mask in a public place is mandatory, it's not yet a criminal offence for individuals if they don't.
  • But building owners, store managers and taxi operators could be sent to jail, and face fines, if they allow the public to go mask-free.
  • Government is waiting to see whether they should make it illegal for individuals not to wear a mask. 
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While wearing an “appropriate item that covers the nose and mouth” in a public place is mandatory, it is still not a criminal offence to go without, government confirmed on Monday.

But while you may not be arrested for not wearing a mask in a store, workplace or taxi – the owner of the premises or vehicle may end up in jail for six months and/or face a fine.

New regulations, that were gazetted on Sunday evening, determine that building and store owners, as well as all employers and school principals will face six months and/or fines if they allow mask-free people on their premises. Taxi operators will face the same penalties if they don't enforce mask-wearing.

But the individual self won’t face jail time or a fine, Ronald Lamola, Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, said on Monday.

He says that at first, government decided to focus on public education, and was reluctant to criminalise not wearing a mask.

“It must be embarrassing to move around without a mask. It must be cool to wear a mask.”

But following instances of irresponsible behaviour of people without masks in shops, and in taxis, government changed tack. Because it wasn’t a criminal offence, it made the lives of law enforcement officers very difficult, Lamola said.

The obligation has now been placed on store managers, owners, building owners and those who are responsible for public congregations to make sure people wear masks.

He added that if there isn’t any improvement in the behaviour of individuals, government will reconsider the criminalisation of not wearing a mask.

“Our hope that is no-one will get a criminal record for not wearing a mask,” said Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini-Zuma, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, on Monday.

But she said that mask-wearing should become a norm, and that South Africans can learn from China in this regard.

She said that long before Covid-19, Chinese people were wearing masks, and that it was a norm in that country.

“It is about protecting ourselves and all those around us.”

While government has introduced stricter measures on masks – it is now allowed to do “vigorous exercise” in a public place without one – provided you stay at least three metres away from any other person. New government regulations say that the ministry of health will still provide directions on what sort of exercise is considered to be vigorous.

Compiled by Helena Wasserman

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