South Africa

IN PICTURES | 'You scare me': Walking with the army through Alex as they enforce lockdown

IN PICTURES | 'You scare me': Walking with the army through Alex as they enforce lockdown

Soldiers on foot were out in full force in parts of Alexandra township, north of Johannesburg, on day 1 of the 21-day coronavirus lockdown on Friday.

From about 4pm, a TimesLIVE reporter and photographer  who had been tracking the soldiers from earlier in the day, joined them on their foot patrol about the township.

With their white gloves on the barrel of their guns, the men in camouflage put on their blue surgical masks as they embarked on their patrol.

Along the route, the officers conducted stop-and-searches of the numerous people they found in the streets. Those who were stopped were asked to produce permits. The majority of them complied.

The presence of the soldiers undoubtedly changed the mood in the streets. Where people were previously walking about and gathering, they quickly dispersed at the sight of the soldiers. Some ran into their houses as the men in brown and green shouted"inside, inside”.

The fear of the military police became evident as one man who — although had a permit and was allowed to be on the street — ran down the road when he saw the foot soldiers coming in his direction. He eventually stopped and walked back when the soldiers called him.

“Why were you running away?” an armed soldier asked him.

His voice shaking, he replied: “I've never seen you guys before. You scare me.” It became apparent that in his bid to evade the soldiers earlier, he had even run in the opposite direction of where he was actually headed.

For many small business owners, it was business as usual earlier but one by one, they shut their roller doors at the command of the soldiers.

Fear was evident on the face of an elderly woman selling food at a street corner. Trying to pack up as the soldiers approached, she clapped her hands and pleaded  for mercy.

“Close your store Gogo,” they sternly told her, helping her to douse the flames inside a tin  drum she had used to warm up the pap and vleis she had been selling.

At one point, the soldiers came across a man dressed in a white jacket walking in the street. The man immediately lifted his hands in the air in surrender as he walked towards the soldiers pleading his case.

Some elderly people were unfazed by the presence of the soldiers.

Sitting outside his house, one elderly man continued to read his book, paying no attention to the approaching soldiers. Closing his book and lifting his chair, he told the soldiers off as they sternly told him to get inside his house.

At one point, the men in camouflage came across a taxi filled with workers heading home. The Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) officers who led the convoy of soldiers stopped the taxi.

The taxi had 14 passengers inside. The JMPD officers ordered all the passengers out of the car as the driver said he was unaware there were restrictions in carrying a full load.

The officers eventually allowed him to take seven passengers. The rest were ordered to walk home.

“Only women inside,” the soldiers shouted as the women jumped back into the taxi, leaving the men stranded on the side of the road.

“We understand,” they told the soldiers as they watched the taxi drive off.

At the end of their patrol,  the soldiers approached a fast food shop demanding that the owner close the shop. Unlike other shop owners in the area, this one was able to produce a permit, showing he was allowed to be operational.

In a twist of events, the soldiers then made his shop their pit stop, buying chicken and pap and eating possibly their last meal for the day. After eating, the soldiers rested their guns and took their place on the pavement, waiting for orders on where their mission would take them next.