S Africa minister apologises for police officer's anti-Muslim rant

AFP , Sunday 26 Apr 2020

South Africa
FILE PHOTO: South African President Cyril Ramaphosa visits the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) treatment facilities at the NASREC Expo Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa April 24, 2020. (Photo: Reuters)

South Africa's police minister on Sunday apologised for a "blasphemous" remark made to praying Muslims by a policeman enforcing coronavirus rules, which was also condemned by a leading Muslim organisation after being caught on video.

A video posted on social media and authenticated by the authorities shows police entering a room where around 20 Muslims were praying, and ordering them to the ground.

One of the police is heard saying "Are you bigger than the president? Is Mohammed bigger than the president?"

South Africans are under orders to observe strict confinement to fight the virus spread, and are allowed to leave their homes only to buy food or for medical appointments. Any gatherings are strictly prohibited.

Minister Bheki Cele said in the statement he had "issued an apology to the Muslim community for the blasphemous remarks during the arrest".

An "urgent investigation" had been launched "to establish the identity of the person behind such sacrilege".

The police, in a separate statement, said the comment was "rather unfortunate and it is unacceptable that someone could make such an utterance".

It did, however, also say that people of all religions had to respect rules during the confinement.

The Jamiatul Ulama South Africa Council of Muslim Theologians said not only were the remarks "demeaning in the name of the prophet Muhammad", but police entering a prayer room with "their heavy boots", as seen in the video, was "distressing to Muslims who consider prayer places as sacred".

But it also reminded the faithful to observe lockdown rules.

The incident, on Saturday in the Mpumalanga province in the north of the country, led to the arrest of 24 people.

On Friday, police had already detained 17 people at a religious ceremony for violating lockdown rules.

South Africa is the worst-affected sub-Saharan country by the coronavirus with 4,361 confirmed cases and 86 deaths.

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