“It is despicable that criminals are using this period of the lockdown as a cover to break the law at a time when our law-enforcement authorities are occupied with supporting the national effort to contain the pandemic,” Ramaphosa said in his weekly presidential address.
He was speaking following reports of criminal incidents ranging from destruction of public properties to gender-based violence.
“It is a great indictment of our society that dozens of schools have been burgled, trashed or burnt to the ground,” the president said.
When the lockdown is lifted and learning resumes, thousands of children will have no school to return to, depriving them of the right to education, he said.
The country has been under lockdown since midnight March 26. Last week, Ramaphosa extended the lockdown by two weeks, to the end of April.
Electricity utility Eskom has also reported an increase in cable theft and vandalism of its infrastructure since the lockdown began, resulting in power supply interruptions and damage that will cost a considerable amount to repair.
“That public property is being vandalized while the entire country is experiencing hardship because of the lockdown, is a demonstration of utter disrespect and disregard for the majority of South Africans who are law-abiding,” Ramaphosa said.
Criminals are also preying on the weak and vulnerable, the president said.
“It is disturbing that during a time of such immense difficulty for our country, women and girls are being terrorised inside their own homes, forcing them to make desperate calls for help,” Ramaphosa said.
The number of calls to the GBV (gender-based violence) National Command Center has increased since the lockdown began, according to the president.
He said South Africa has heeded the call by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for governments to prioritize gender-based violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We continue to implement the Emergency Response Plan to end gender-based violence that was announced last year,” Ramaphosa said.
Support services to vulnerable women and children remain operational throughout the lockdown, including psycho-social services like counselling for women and children, sheltering and places of safety, and medico-legal services in cases of sexual violence, he said.
“I have a message for those callous criminals who think they can take advantage,” said Ramaphosa.
The criminal justice system is not on leave as law enforcement authorities will deal with those who transgress the law, he warned.