Amnesty International has warned that the coronavirus pandemic is prompting tough regimes in Africa to dish out harsh punishments to people under lockdown.
Deprose Muchena, the charity’s director for East and Southern Africa, warned that, with inequality and unemployment high in many countries, people cannot afford to remain in lockdown even for a week.
The charity cited incidents in Angola, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe where people have been targeted by security forces, including by destroying food in street markets.
In South Africa’s Cape Town, food shortages even prompted rioters to break into tuck shops and attack each other.
It came as news emerged of the death of Guinea’s secretary general of the government Sekou Kourouma, who was a close ally of president Alpha Conde.
Amnesty International has warned that the coronavirus pandemic is prompting tough regimes in Africa to dish out harsh punishments to people under lockdown
His death followed that of chief of staff to the Nigerian government on Saturday.
Overall, there have been 21,165 cases on the continent, with 1,058 deaths.
Mr Muchena told the Africa Times: ‘With inequality and unemployment so high across Southern Africa, the majority of people live hand to mouth – meaning that they cannot afford to remain in lockdown for a week, let alone for a month, because they have no financial means to stockpile.
As well as destroying food, police are said to have also beaten and arrested civilians they found flouting lockdown rules.
Travel to shops to buy groceries is legally permitted but that has reportedly not stopped people being targeted by security forces.
The riots in the Mitchells Plain township in Cape Town took place last week after the country’s government imposed a lockdown in March.
‘Mr President we are in the middle of a food crisis. It’s war out here,’ warned Joanie Fredericks, a community leader in the town.
The charity cited incidents in Angola, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe where people have been targeted by security forces, including by destroying food in street markets. Pictured: A man is stopped in the street by police in Johannesburg on Saturday
The desperate plea was made in a video posted on social media to South African President Cyril Ramaphosa who imposed a five-week lockdown to try curb the spread of the coronavirus.
‘People have broken into tuck shops. They have attacked people. The simple reason is because they are hungry,’ she said from a kitchen dishing cooked meals into packs for distribution to the poor.
Imposed from March 27, the lockdown has placed already cash-strapped citizens under further strain.
The numbers of people lining up for food at the self-funded scheme run by Fredericks and other volunteers are growing by the day.
‘When we started out feeding people we started out with the very vulnerable, …the children, the disabled people and the pensioners.
In South Africa’s Cape Town, food shortages even prompted rioters to break into tuck shops and attack each other
‘Mr President we are in the middle of a food crisis. It’s war out here,’ warned Joanie Fredericks, a community leader in the town
‘But we are way past that Mr President, we are past the stage of sending people away,’ an emotional Fredericks pleaded.
Hundreds of angry people fought running battles with the police, hurling rocks and setting up street barricades with burning tyres in Mitchells Plain over undelivered food parcels on Tuesday.
Police fired rubber bullets and teargas to disperse them.
Several videos have been shared on social media of supermarkets being stormed in recent days.
One of the raids was at a branch of one of South Africa’s largest grocery store chains.
People were shown carting away baskets filled with unpaid goods in a township in the Western Cape province.
Social Development minister Lindiwe Zulu this week promised to increase food aid deliveries after only 48,500 parcels were distributed in the first week of April.
But in Malawi, plans for a lockdown were scuppered at the last minute, after a court injunction ordered it to be delayed.
Imposed from March 27, South Africa’s lockdown has placed already cash-strapped citizens under further strain
It had been due to begin on Saturday but has been put back by at least seven days.
The legal challenge was brought by the Human Rights Defenders Coalition. They will represent their case at the country’s high court next Friday.
In Guinea, Mr Kourouma was taken ill last week and died on Saturday
‘Several senior state officials (have died) as a result of complications related to COVID-19,’ the government said in a statement.
At least two other officials have died of COVID-19 – the president of the electoral commission Salif Kebe and Victor Traore, a former director of Interpol in Guinea.
Guinea has officially reported 518 cases of coronavirus.
Five people have died, according to statistics released by the National Agency for Health Security on Sunday.
In spite of significant natural resources, Guinea remains a poor country where the state of the health system is causing concern in the face of the pandemic.
The country was severely affected by the Ebola outbreak, which killed 2,500 people between 2013 and 2016.
The riots in the Mitchells Plain township in Cape Town took place last week after the country’s government imposed a lockdown in March
Conde has ordered the wearing of masks from April 18 to try to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
Guineans are also facing a nighttime curfew, the closing of schools, borders and places of worship as well as restrictions on gatherings.
There were also reports that the king of Swaziland, Mswati III, had tested positive for COVID-19.
However, the government insisted the reports are rumours and condemned them.
‘This is purely fake news,’ said Sabelo Dlamini, a government spokesman.
‘Such fabrication perpetuated by elements intent on sowing confusion and panic is unacceptable and appalling.’