South Africa’s president appeared in full military uniform for the first time since the end of apartheid and told troops to be a “force of kindness” as a three-week lockdown begins at midnight and they ensure that 57 million people stay home.
The mission is the “most important in the history of our country” as coronavirus cases near 1,000, the highest in Africa.
“Our people are terrified right now and we should not do anything to make their situation worse,” President Cyril Ramaphosa told police earlier Thursday. “Psychologically they are already scared that they could get the virus, lose income, lose jobs, get sick without medication.”
Anxiety has been especially high for low-income South Africans squeezed into townships, sometimes with an extended family sharing a shack of corrugated metal and little income. Fears of an increase in domestic violence and rape have been expressed by civil society groups.
And economic pain is widespread, with a recession and unemployment at 29%. South Africa remains one of the world’s most unequal countries a quarter-century after the racist apartheid system ended in 1994.