Stay apart please.
(Getty)
  • The move back to Alert Level 3 means church, a sit-down restaurant, and going to a political gathering are all legal again.
  • But if you are found in a venue with too many people you – as an ordinary attendee – could be held criminally liable, and face a fine or jail.
  • The criminalisation of attendees as well as organisers of illegal gatherings was introduced in the last bout of Level 4.
  • At the time it was not necessary to count heads when you entered affected venues, because they were closed entirely.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

As of Sunday night, you can go to jail in South Africa for being a room with too many other people.

The rules for the new Alert Level 3, published by co-operative governance and traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma in the Government Gazette on Sunday night introduce a new set of criminal offences for those who "attend" restaurants, religious gatherings, or conferences that exceed their maximum headcount of 50 people indoors, or 100 outdoors.

The new rules are immediately in force.

In early versions of rules on maximum occupancy for certain types of spaces, only organisers and venue managers were held responsible for adhering to the counts. But under the latest version of Alert Level 4 (now ended with the publication of the new regulations on Sunday night) individuals were threatened with jail for entering a church, or sitting down at a restaurant, 

See also | Level 4: Jail for going to church, or a sit-down restaurant

Now that sit-down restaurants and churches may operate again, albeit under special rules, the criminalisation of attendees has been maintained. The effect is that those who go to such venues have to count heads when entering, and continuously keep track to make sure the limits aren't breached while they are there.

"Any person who attends a faith based, religious, social, political or cultural gathering and who knows or ought reasonably to have known or suspected that the number of persons exceeds [50 people indoors and 100 outdoors] commits an offence and is, on conviction, liable to a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or to both such fine and imprisonment," reads the version of the rules for that type of activity.

The exact same approach is used when it comes to drinking and eating establishments: "Any person who attends a restaurant, bar, shebeen or tavern and who knows or ought reasonably to have known or suspected that the number of persons attending exceeds [50 people indoors and 100 outdoors] commits an offence and is, on conviction, liable to a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or to both such fine and imprisonment."

The obligation to count attendees also applies to "conferencing, exhibition, dining or entertainment" facilities.

Spectators at sporting events do not need to count attendees; because any spectating remains illegal, the mere act of being in attendance at a sporting match makes you a criminal.

See also | Return to lockdown Level 3: What will now be allowed

President Cyril Ramaphosa alluded to criminal sanction in his address to the nation on Sunday, when he announced the move to Level 3, but without being explicit on who the criminals would be.

"The owners and managers of public buildings, centres, shops, restaurants, taxis and buses all have a responsibility to ensure that people on their premises or in their vehicles wear masks," he said. 

"They must also ensure that the appropriate social distancing measures are in place and are adhered to.

"It is important to remember that it is a criminal offence if the number of people on these premises exceeds the maximum number of customers or employees allowed."

(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)

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