Some African governments are enforcing lockdowns brutally

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DURING APARTHEID in South Africa, policemen who wanted to control crowds often reached for the sjambok—a vicious, three-foot-long whip traditionally made of rhino hide. That symbol of brutality was banned in 1989. But it is back in use as police enforce a 21-day lockdown meant to slow the spread of covid-19.

On March 30th in Hillbrow, a gritty part of Johannesburg, an unmarked police car cruised the streets before a plainclothes officer got out and chased residents who were deemed to be defying the rules. He beat them with his sjambok—no questions asked, no warnings given. Asked to explain, the uniformed driver of the vehicle said that people had to be taught to comply. Orders came from “the top”, he claimed.

Many African governments have told their people to stay at home to slow the spread of the virus. On March 22nd Rwanda became the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to impose a...

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