During the last ‘family meeting’, President Hage Geingob announced amended regulations at the end of June to curb the spread of Covid-19, which has unleashed a deadly third wave of infections. These restrictions included strictly prohibiting the sale of alcohol over weekends, limiting gatherings to 10 persons and altering curfew hours, amongst others.
But as soon as this happened, a social media post saying “bars are not closed, it’s just the entrance that changed,” started circulating. This is a phrase the police force believe is a thorn in their flesh.
“There is no change in the selling of alcohol. It is basically underground, so it is worrisome,” said deputy commissioner Ismael Basson.
Basson, the regional commander of the Khomas region, expressed these sentiments during a two-day operation this past weekend, set to assess and monitor compliance with Covid-19 regulations. He said no less than 20 people are being arrested on a daily basis in the region for contravening the laid-down regulations.
“The force is doing what it’s doing, arresting left, right and centre. But it seems the message is not getting across,” he stated with unease.
Justice minister Yvonne Dausab joined the patrol on Friday evening. “I think people are adapting to the new way of doing things, but there is also a group in our society that continues to do things as though it’s business as usual. People continue to behave as though there is no Corona, and part of the problem, I think, is because there has been so much misinformation and fake news”, she observed.
During the operation, it was also revealed how overwhelmed police stations are, a grave concern during a deadly pandemic that spreads among people in confined spaces with no possibility of social distancing.
To ease the congestion in holding cells, officers use their discretion by letting offenders go with stern warnings and a reminder of the regulations.
“Offenders come with all kinds of excuses, but we listen to individual excuses and release them accordingly,” said Basson. “Every day it’s the same story”, he added.
Those who are found to gravely contravene regulations are arrested and escorted to a police station, where they are charged and given the option to pay a fine or go to court.
Deputy minister of information Emma Theofelus joined the operation on Friday and Saturday, while Dausab attended Friday night’s patrol. This was to assess the practicality and real-time implications of the regulations on the ground to better inform decision-making.
“The converging of large groups, with no masks or social distancing, is concerning,” stressed Theofelus on Friday.
She said “Government is using the best information at its disposal to try and educate the citizens for them to make the right choices, and for them to be protected. So, it’s unfamiliar territory. It’s a very difficult situation, but we are trying our best. We want the citizens to work with us. Sometimes I feel our citizens are a bit too negative. They are a bit too critical. They’re not willing to understand the standpoint of government and healthcare professionals. Quite honestly, some are not team players.”
The operation, which went viral on social media, highlighted how Namibians are finding it difficult to comply with the set regulations. As roadblocks were set up after curfew, some citizens would try and make U-turns to avoid the officers, while others would simply abandon their vehicles.
Seventeen youths in the Soweto area were rounded up after 00h00 when neighbours filed a noise complaint. They were then begging for leniency, but Basson responded “if you were probably less than 10, we could have overlooked it”.
They were to be charged and fined, with the option of going to court. On Saturday evening alone, eight people were arrested and charged for selling alcohol. This led to Basson and other stakeholders believing that there’s a need to implement long-term measures “that can be held against them. They will not be able to renew their licences because of those violations. Some of them will not get them”.
The patrol went from the suburbs to the informal settlements, and all the way to the Windhoek-Okahandja roadblock. Several suspects attempted to run away, others offered excuses like “the car died, sir”, but many others thanked the security cluster.
The two-day operation was deemed a great success.
“Police presence means crime prevention. It is not about how many people were arrested, but how many crimes you prevented from being committed. That is the success in policing,” said Basson to his team. With many more operations to come, he reminded them that it was not the end yet.
“We appreciate your diligence, your perseverance; that you are able to enforce the regulations and the message goes out there that if you do not comply, you find yourself in trouble,” Theofelus told the officers.